Duncan v. Louisiana
391 U.S. 145, 88 S. Ct. 1444, 20 L.Ed.2d 491 (1968)

  • Duncan was involved in a fight and slapped a guy. He was arrested and charged with simple battery.
    • Under Louisiana State law, simple battery was a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 2 years in prison.
    • Under Louisiana State law, there was no guarantee to a trial by jury for misdemeanors.
  • Duncan was convicted of simple battery and given a 60 day prison sentence. He appealed.
  • The Louisiana Supreme Court denied certification to hear the appeal. Duncan appealed to the US Supreme Court.
    • Duncan argued that the 6th Amendment required that he receive a trial by jury.
    • Since this case was prosecuted under State law, there was a debate as to whether the 6th Amendment extended to State courts based on the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Federal law and the laws of 49 out of the 50 States all required a trial by jury for offenses punishable by more than 1 year in prison. In addition, at the time the 6th Amendment was ratified, it was typical to get a trial by jury for offenses punishable by more than 6 months in prison.
    • Therefore, the Court found that Louisiana State law was ‘out of synch’ with historical and current standards of the US justice system and was therefore unconstitutional.
  • In this case, the US Supreme Court applied the selective incorporation approach to the 14th Amendment, which looks at State laws on a case by case basis and determines if the State standard is in synch with American jurisprudence (aka is it “fundamental to the American scheme of justice?”).
    • If there does appear to be a standard, then it should be uniformly applied across all States and Federal jurisdiction. If there is no standard, then different jurisdictions are free to come up with their own solutions, even if those solutions don’t exactly match the Federal law.
    • This is different from the fundamental fairness approach, which simply asks if the law could possibly allow for a fair trial.
  • In a concurring opinion, it was argued that the Court should adopt a total incorporation approach, which would require the States to exactly meet all the standards of the Bill of Rights.
    • In the total incorporation approach, if the Federal government decided to so things a certain way, then all 50 of the States would have to follow suit, even if they all disagreed with the way the Federal government was doing it.