MAXWELL v. BISHOP

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
13
Petitioner 
William L. Maxwell
Respondent 
O.E. Bishop, Superintendent, Arkansas State Penitentiary
Reargued: 
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

On November 3, 1961 William L. Maxwell was arrested and charged with raping a woman in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The jury convicted him of rape but did not render a verdict of life imprisonment. Accordingly, the trial court imposed the death penalty, and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. Maxwell sought a writ of habeas corpus in the district court and claimed that his conviction and punishment were unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the jury had determined the guilt and the penalty in a single proceeding. Additionally, he argued that the jury was not given any standards or direction regarding the imposition of the death penalty or life imprisonment. The district court denied the writ, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial.

Question 

(1) Does the imposition of the death penalty violate the defendant’s right to due process when guilt and punishment are determined in a single proceeding?

(2) Does the imposition of the death penalty violate the defendant’s right to due process when the jury was not given standards or directions on whether to impose the death penalty or life imprisonment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Maxwell, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

Yes, yes. In a per curiam opinion, the 7-1 majority held that the case should be remanded to the district court for consideration of whether the defendant’s due process rights were violated. The Court compared the treatment of the jurors in this case to that in Witherspoon v. Illinois , a case in which the Court held the jury selection process violated the right to due process because some potential jurors were excluded from the jury simply for voicing general objections to, or religious beliefs against the death penalty. A potential jury member must have the ability to follow the instructions of the trial judge and consider all possible penalties. The Court held that further hearing on this matter was necessary before any further action could be taken, and that a local court would be better equipped to handle these issues.

Justice Hugo L. Black wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued that potential jury members who are opposed to capital punishment may be properly disqualified from the jury in a capital case.

Justice Thurgood Marshall did not participate in the consideration or decision of the case.

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MAXWELL v. BISHOP. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 05 May 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_13_2>.
MAXWELL v. BISHOP, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_13_2 (last visited May 5, 2015).
"MAXWELL v. BISHOP," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed May 5, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_13_2.