Irvin v. Dowd (1961)

In Irvin v. Dowd the Supreme Court determined that the media created such a pervasive atmosphere of pretrial prejudice that Irvin was unable to receive a fair trial.Supreme Court In this case the court held unanimously that "Mad Dog Irvin" (as he was called by the press) had been denied 14th Amendment due process, and therefore was entitled to a new trial. The fourteenth Amendment states that all citizens are guaranteed fair procedures when state action is involved; "they are protected against unfair taking of their property by the state." Irvin claimed that proper procedures were not followed during his trial. "The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision by the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which had turned down Irvin's request for a writ of habeas corpus. The court pointed to the fact that 8 of the 12 jurors in the case had indicated during voir dire that they thought he was guilty of the murder for which he was being tried (Moore, p. 450)." Although he was tried and convicted of one murder, he was supposedly linked to six homicides. All eight of the jurors claimed they were familiar with the facts and circumstances of the case including Irvin's confession to six murders. They were familiar with this information because of the extensive press coverage the case received, but all of them told the judge they could still be fair and impartial. The court noted:

"No doubt each juror was sincere when he said that he would be fair and impartial to petitioner (Irvin), but the psychological impact requiring such a declarationSupreme Court before one's fellows is often its father. Where so many, so many times, admitted prejudice, such a statement of impartiality can be given little weight. As one of the jurors put it, "You can't forget what you hear and see." With his life at stake, it is not requiring too much that a petitioner be tried in an atmosphere undisturbed that so huge a wave of public passion and by a jury other than one in which two-thirds of the members admit, before hearing any testimony, to possessing a belief in his guilt (citations omitted)."

The great amount of publicity in the area where Irvin was tried included stories about crimes he had committed as a juvenile, as well as twenty-year-old convictions for burglary and arson, and a court-martial on AWOL charges during the war. Many news stories described the defendant as "confessed slayer of six." One of the news stories even went so far as to describe Irvin as remorseless and having no conscience, including that he had been declared sane by court-appointed physicians.

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