CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.
Hughes, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner was convicted, in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, of murder in the first degree and was sentenced to death. The conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. This Court granted a writ of certiorari, limited to the question raised by the exception to the ruling of the trial court on the examination on voir dire of prospective jurors.
The petitioner is a negro, and the deceased was a white man, a member of the police force of the District. The record shows the following proceedings on the examination of jurors on the voir dire :
The court "inquired if any of them knew the defendant, Alfred Scott Aldridge, or his counsel, or any of the witnesses whose names have been called. The court further inquired if any of the prospective jurors knew any of the facts in the case or if any of them ever remembered having read of it in the newspaper, or if they had any prejudice or bias against circumstantial evidence, or if any of the prospective jurors had any conscientious scruples against capital punishment. The court further inquired if any prospective juror had formed or exercised an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and further inquired whether any prospective juror was acquainted with any member of the Metropolitan Police Force of the District of Columbia, or more particularly those attached to the third precinct.
"Whereupon, with the consent of the court, counsel for the parties hereto approached the bench and in a whispered tone, out of the hearing of the prospective jurors, the following took place:
"Mr. Reilly. At the last trial of this case I understand there was one woman on the jury who was a southerner, and who said that the fact that the defendant was a negro and the deceased a white man perhaps somewhat influenced her. I don't like to ask that question in public, but //--
"The Court. I don't think that would be a proper question, any more than to ask whether they like an Irishman or a Scotchman.
"Mr. Reilly. But it was brought to our attention so prominently. It is a racial question //--
"The Court. It was not this jury.
"Mr. Reilly. No. But it was a racial question, and the question came up -- --
"The Court. I don't think that is proper.
"Mr. Reilly. Might I, out of an abundance of caution, ...