No. 90-5193


[May 30, 1991]

Justice O'Connor, concurring.

No one doubts that Dawud Majid Mu'Min's brutal murder of Gladys Nopwasky attracted extensive media coverage. For days on end, the case made headlines because it involved a macabre act of senseless violence and because it added fuel to an already heated political controversy about the wisdom of inmate work-release programs. But the question we decide today is not whether the jurors who ultimately convicted Mu'Min had previously read or heard anything about the case; everyone agrees that eight of them had. Nor is the question whether jurors who read that Mu'Min had confessed to the murder should have been disqualified as a matter of law. See post, at 8-9, 11-12. This claim is squarely foreclosed by Patton v. Yount, 467 U.S. 1025 (1984), where we upheld a trial court's decision to seat jurors who had read about the case notwithstanding that the defendant's written confessions, which were not admissible at trial, were widely reported in the press. See id., at 1029; id., at 1047 (Stevens, J., dissenting). The only question before us is whether the trial court erred by crediting the assurances of eight jurors that they could put aside what they had read or heard and render a fair verdict based on the evidence.

The dissent insists that the trial judge could not have assessed realistically the jurors' credibility without first identifying the information to which each individual juror had been exposed. I disagree. It is true that the trial judge did not know precisely what each individual juror had read about the case. He was undeniably aware, however, of the full range of information that had been reported. This is because Mu'Min submitted to the court, in support of a motion for a change of venue, 47 newspaper articles relating to the murder. Ante, at 2. The trial judge was thus aware, long before voir dire, of all of the allegedly prejudicial information to which prospective jurors might have been exposed.

With this information in mind, the trial judge had to determine whether or not to believe the jurors' assurances that they would be able to enter the jury box with an open mind. To this end, he questioned prospective jurors repeatedly about whether exposure to pretrial publicity had impaired their ability to be impartial. One juror who equivocated was excused by the trial court on its own motion. Ante, at 4-5. As to the 12 jurors ultimately selected, the trial judge determined that their assurances of impartiality were credible. As we observed in Patton v. Yount, credibility determinations of this kind are entitled to "special deference," 467 U. S., at 1038, and will be reversed only for "manifest error." Id., at 1031-1032.

The dissent is correct to point out that the trial judge could have done more. He could have decided, in his discretion, to ask each juror to recount what he or she remembered reading about the case. The fact remains, however, that the trial judge himself was familiar with the potentially prejudicial publicity to which the jurors might have been exposed. Hearing individual jurors repeat what the judge already knew might still have been helpful: a particular juror's tone of voice or demeanor might have suggested to the trial judge that the juror had formed an opinion about the case and should therefore be excused. I cannot conclude, however, that "content" questions are so indispensable that it violates the Sixth Amendment for a trial court to evaluate a juror's credibility instead by reference to the full range of potentially prejudicial information that has been reported. Accordingly, I join the Court's opinion.