399 U.S. 78 (1970), 927, Williams v. Florida

Docket Nº:No. 927
Citation:399 U.S. 78, 90 S.Ct. 1893, 26 L.Ed.2d 446
Party Name:Williams v. Florida
Case Date:June 22, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court

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399 U.S. 78 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 1893, 26 L.Ed.2d 446




No. 927

United States Supreme Court

June 22, 1970

Argued March 4, 1970




Florida has a rule of criminal procedure requiring a defendant who intends to rely on an alibi to disclose to the prosecution the names of his alibi witnesses; the prosecution must, in turn, disclose to the defense the names of witnesses to rebut the alibi. Failure to comply can result in exclusion of alibi evidence at trial (except for the defendant's own testimony) or, in the case of the State, exclusion of the rebuttal evidence. Petitioner, who was charged with robbery, complied with the rule after failing to be relieved of its requirements. His pretrial motion to impanel a 12-man jury, instead of the six-man jury Florida law provides for noncapital cases, was denied. At trial, the State used a deposition of petitioner's alibi witness to impeach the witness. Petitioner was convicted, and the appellate court affirmed. Petitioner claims that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated, on the ground that the notice-of-alibi rule required him to furnish the State with information useful in convicting him, and that his Sixth Amendment right was violated on the ground that the six-man jury deprived him of the right to "trial by jury" under the Sixth Amendment.


1. Florida's notice-of-alibi rule does not violate the Fifth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 80-86.

(a) This discovery rule is designed to enhance the search for truth in criminal trials by giving both the accused and the State opportunity to investigate certain facts crucial to the issue of guilt or innocence, and comports with requirements for due process and a fair trial. Pp. 81 82.

(b) The rule, at most, accelerated the timing of petitioner's disclosure of an alibi defense, and thus did not violate the privilege against compelled self-incrimination. Pp. 82-86.

2. The constitutional guarantee of a trial by jury does not require that jury membership be fixed at 12, a historically accidental figure. Although accepted at common law, the Framers did not explicitly intend to forever codify as a constitutional requirement a feature not essential to the Sixth Amendment's purpose of interposing

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between the defendant and the prosecution the common sense judgment of his peers. Pp. 86-103.

224 So.2d 406, affirmed.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

[90 S.Ct. 1895] MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Prior to his trial for robbery in the State of Florida, petitioner filed a "Motion for a Protective Order," seeking to be excused from the requirements of Rule 1.200 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. That rule requires a defendant, on written demand of the prosecuting attorney, to give notice in advance of trial if the defendant intends to claim an alibi, and to furnish the prosecuting attorney with information as to the place where he claims to have been and with the names and addresses of the alibi witnesses he intends to use.1 In his motion, petitioner openly declared his intent to claim an alibi, but objected to the further disclosure requirements on the ground that the rule "compels the Defendant in a criminal case to be a witness against himself" in violation of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.2 The motion was denied. Petitioner also filed a pretrial motion to impanel a 12-man jury instead of the six-man

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jury provided by Florida law in all but capital cases.3 That motion too was denied. Petitioner was convicted as charged and was sentenced to life imprisonment.4 The District Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting petitioner's claims that his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. We granted certiorari.5 396 U.S. 955 (1969).


Florida's "notice of alibi" rule is, in essence, a requirement that a defendant submit to a limited form of pretrial discovery by the State whenever he intends to rely at trial on the defense of alibi. In exchange for the defendant's disclosure of the witnesses he proposes to use to establish that defense, the State, in turn, is required to notify the defendant of any witnesses it proposes to offer in rebuttal to that defense. Both sides are under a continuing duty promptly to disclose the names and addresses of additional witnesses bearing on the alibi as they become available. The threatened sanction for failure to comply is the exclusion at trial of the defendant's alibi evidence -- except for his own testimony -- or, in the case of the State, the exclusion of the State's evidence offered in rebuttal of the alibi.6

In this case, following the denial of his Motion for a Protective Order, petitioner complied with the alibi

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rule and gave the State the name and address of one Mary Scotty. Mrs. Scotty was summoned to the office of the State Attorney on the morning of the trial, where she gave pretrial testimony. At the trial itself, Mrs. Scotty, petitioner, and petitioner's wife all testified that the three of them had been in Mrs. Scotty's apartment during the time of the robbery. On two occasions during cross-examination of Mrs. Scotty, the prosecuting attorney confronted her with her earlier deposition [90 S.Ct. 1896] in which she had given dates and times that, in some respects, did not correspond with the dates and times given at trial. Mrs. Scotty adhered to her trial story, insisting that she had been mistaken in her earlier testimony.7 The State also offered in rebuttal the testimony of one of the officers investigating the robbery who claimed that Mrs. Scotty had asked him for directions on the afternoon in question during the time when she claimed to have been in her apartment with petitioner and his wife.8

We need not linger over the suggestion that the discovery permitted the State against petitioner in this case deprived him of "due process" or a "fair trial." Florida law provides for liberal discovery by the defendant against the State,9 and the "notice of alibi" rule is itself carefully hedged with reciprocal duties requiring state disclosure to the defendant. Given the ease with which an alibi can be fabricated, the State's interest in protecting itself against an eleventh-hour defense is both obvious and legitimate. Reflecting this interest, "notice of alibi" provisions, dating at least from 1927,10

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are now in existence in a substantial number of States.11 The adversary system of trial is hardly an end in itself; it is not yet a poker game in which players enjoy an absolute right always to conceal their cards until played.12 We find ample room in that system, at least as far as "due process" is concerned, for the instant Florida rule, which is designed to enhance the search for truth in the criminal trial by insuring both the defendant and the State ample opportunity to investigate certain facts crucial to the determination of guilt or innocence.

Petitioner's major contention is that he was "compelled . . . to be a witness against himself," contrary to the command of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, because the "notice of alibi" rule required him to give the State the name and address of Mrs. Scotty in advance of trial, and thus to furnish the State with information useful in convicting him. No pretrial statement of petitioner was introduced at trial, but, armed with Mrs. Scotty's name and address and the knowledge

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that she was to be petitioner's alibi witness, the State was able to take her deposition in advance of trial and to find rebuttal testimony. Also, requiring him to reveal the elements of his defense is claimed to have interfered with his right to wait until after the State had presented its case to decide how to defend against it. We conclude, however, as has apparently every [90 S.Ct. 1897] other court that has considered the issue,13 that the privilege against self-incrimination is not violated by a requirement that the defendant give notice of an alibi defense and disclose his alibi witnesses.14

The defendant in a criminal trial is frequently forced to testify himself and to call other witnesses in an effort to reduce the risk of conviction. When he presents his witnesses, he must reveal their identity and submit them to cross-examination which, in itself, may prove incriminating or which may furnish the State with leads to

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incriminating rebuttal evidence. That the defendant faces such a dilemma demanding a choice between complete silence and presenting a defense has never been thought an invasion of the privilege against compelled self-incrimination. The pressures generated by the State's evidence may be severe, but they do not vitiate the defendant's choice to present an alibi defense and witnesses to prove it, even though the attempted defense ends in catastrophe for the defendant. However "testimonial" or "incriminating" the alibi defense proves to be, it cannot be considered "compelled" within the meaning of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Very similar constraints operate on the defendant when the State requires pretrial notice of alibi and the naming of alibi witnesses. Nothing in such a rule requires the defendant to rely on an alibi or prevents him from abandoning the defense; these matters are left to his unfettered choice.15 That choice must

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be [90 S.Ct. 1898] made, but the pressures that bear on his pretrial decision are of the same nature as those that would induce him to call alibi witnesses at the trial: the force of historical fact beyond both his and the State's control and the strength of the State's case built on these facts. Response to that kind of pressure by offering evidence or testimony is not compelled self-incrimination transgressing the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In the case before us, the "notice of alibi" rule, by itself, in...

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