VASQUEZ v. HILLERY

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
84-836
Petitioner 
Daniel Vasquez
Respondent 
Booker T. Hillery, Jr.
Advocates
(on behalf of the Respondent)
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
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Facts of the Case 

In 1962, an all-white grand jury indicted Booker T. Hillery—a black man—for the murder of a 15-year-old girl. After Hillery was tried and convicted, he appealed his conviction and claimed that black potential jurors were systematically excluded from the grand jury that indicted him, which violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Hillery pursued remedy in state courts until the California Supreme Court finally denied him relief in 1978. Shortly after, Hillery filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court. The district court requested and received statistical evidence regarding the probability of having an all-white grand jury in Kings County, California, where Hillery was indicted and subsequently ruled in favor of Hillery. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Question 

(1) Did Hillery exhaust all avenues for habeas corpus relief in state court even though the federal district court requested additional evidence?

(2) Did Hillery’s eventual conviction render any discrimination in the indictment process “harmless error”?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Hillery, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 28 USC 2241-2255 (habeas corpus)

Yes, and no. Justice Thurgood Marshall delivered the opinion for the 6-3 majority. The Court held that Hillery was allowed to pursue his claim in federal court because the district court was within its power to request additional evidence that did not fundamentally alter the legal claim that the state courts already considered. The Court also held that Hillery’s eventual conviction in a fair trial did not render any discrimination at the indictment phase “harmless error.” The Court referenced the extensive precedent that rejected similar arguments and noted that discrimination in the indictment process can have an array of negative effects such as a false finding of probable cause, charging a greater or capital offense, or charging numerous counts.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which she argued that petitioners who have claimed discrimination during the indictment process and have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate that claim in state court should not be able to file federal habeas corpus as an alternate avenue. However, in this case, Justice O’Connor agreed that Hillery was denied a fair state court review.

Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. filed a dissenting opinion in which he argued that the injustice in this case was slight because a grand jury that accurately reflected the population of Kings County when Hillery was indicted would have had only one black member. Additionally, Justice Powell argued that relief in the form of an automatic reversal of Hillery’s conviction, which required the state to hold a new trial 23 years after the crime had been committed, imposed too great of a burden on the state to justify setting Hillery free. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice William H. Rehnquist joined in the dissent.

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VASQUEZ v. HILLERY. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 03 June 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_84_836>.
VASQUEZ v. HILLERY, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_84_836 (last visited June 3, 2015).
"VASQUEZ v. HILLERY," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 3, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_84_836.