Case Close-ups Sheppard v. Maxwell

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Sheppard v. Maxwell

384 U.S. 333


Fourteenth Amendment

Due Process

Right to a Fair Trial

First Amendment

Freedom of the Press


Dr. Sam Sheppard, a physician and member of a prominent Cleveland family, was tried for the murder of his wife in the midst of a media frenzy. Reporters were given unprecedented access to the courthouse and courtroom with their equipment and the trial was conducted in a circus-like atmosphere. There was no sequestration of the jury and since their identities were made public, they were subject to outside influences from the news media and the public. Sheppard was convicted and after many unsuccessful state appeals, federal habeas corpus petitions and 12 years in prison, his case came before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court found that the state trial judge did not fulfill his duty to protect Sheppard from the inherently prejudicial publicity which saturated the community and to control disruptive influences in the courtroom and ordered that Sheppard be released from custody pending any retrial. The Court urged remedial measures be taken by trial courts to prevent that sort of prejudice at its inception.
Majority: Brennan, Clark, Douglas, Fortas, Harlan, Stewart, Warren and White
Dissents: Black
Opinion of the Court: Clark

Web Links:
Findlaw: Sheppard v. Maxwell - full text of the opinion

The Oyez Project, Northwestern University: provides a summary of the opinion, how the Justices voted and a recording of the actual oral arguments.
Exploring Constitutional Conflicts : Fair Trial Issues - useful and interesting site, explores the interplay between the Constitutional guarantees of free speech and the right to a fair trial, with links to in-depth background materials on the Sheppard case and the excerpted Court opinion.

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