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Duncan v. Louisiana

Citation. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 88 S. Ct. 1444, 20 L. Ed. 2d 491, 45 Ohio Op. 2d 198 (U.S. May 20, 1968)
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Brief Fact Summary.

An altercation between Duncan, an African-American youth, and some white boys who were engaged in a conversation with his cousins. Duncan slapped one of the white boys on the elbow.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Sixth Amendment guarantee of a jury trial is applied to the states via incorporation through the Fourteenth Amendment.


Duncan, the appellant, was denied a jury trial in his criminal case.


Whether the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.


Yes. A jury trial in criminal cases “is fundamental to the American scheme of justice.”


The dissent of J. Harlan argued that the historical record demonstrates that “the Congressmen and state legislators who wrote, debated, and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment” did not seek to apply the Bill of Rights to the states.
Concurrence. J. Black, joined by J. Douglas, specifically challenged the dissent’s interpretation of history, and reaffirmed the belief that the Bill of Rights is applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment on its face.


“The test for determining whether a right extended by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments with respect to federal criminal proceedings is also protected against state action by the Fourteenth Amendment has been phrased many ways . . . whether a right is among those ‘fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civial and political institutions,’ whether it ‘basic in our system of jurisprudence,’ and whether it is ‘a fundamental right, essential to a fair trail.’

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