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Witherspoon v. Illinois

Significance, Impact


William C. Witherspoon


State of Illinois

Petitioner's Claim

It is unconstitutional for a penalty of death to be delivered by a jury that is selected through a process of eliminating certain prospective jurors simply because they voiced general objections to the death penalty or expressed conscientious or religious scruples against imposition of the death penalty.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Albert E. Jenner, Jr.

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

James B. Zagel

Justices for the Court

William J. Brennan, Jr., Warren E. Burger, William O. Douglas, Abe Fortas, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart (writing for the Court)

Justices Dissenting

Hugo Lafayette Black, John Marshall Harlan II, Byron R. White


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

3 June 1968


In a death penalty case, it is a violation of the defendant's constitutional right of due process to exclude from the jury persons who have general objections to the death penalty or moral or religious concerns about inflicting it.

Related Cases

  • Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 (1985).
  • Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719 (1992).

Further Readings

  • Belt, John C., "Morgan v. Illinois: The Right to Balance Capital Sentencing Juries as to Their Views on the Death Sentence Is Finally Granted to Defendants." New Mexico Law Review, winter 1994.
  • New York Times, June 4, 1968.
  • Zerman, Melvyn Bernard. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Inside the American Jury System. Crowell, 1981.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972