412 U.S. 17 (1973), 71-6732, Chaffin v. Stynchcombe

Docket Nº:No. 71-6732
Citation:412 U.S. 17, 93 S.Ct. 1977, 36 L.Ed.2d 714
Party Name:Chaffin v. Stynchcombe
Case Date:May 21, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

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412 U.S. 17 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 1977, 36 L.Ed.2d 714




No. 71-6732

United States Supreme Court

May 21, 1973

Argued February 22, 1973




Upon retrial following the reversal of his conviction, petitioner was again found guilty and sentenced by the jury to a greater term than had been imposed by the first jury. After exhausting his state court appeals, petitioner was denied habeas corpus on his claim that imposing a higher sentence on retrial was unconstitutional, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The rendition of a higher sentence by a jury upon retrial does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 719-721, and does not offend the Due Process Clause as long as the jury is not informed of the prior sentence and the second sentence is not otherwise shown to be a product of vindictiveness. Nor does the possibility of a higher sentence impermissibly "chill" the exercise of a criminal defendant's right to challenge his first conviction by direct appeal or collateral attack. Pp. 23-35.

455 F.2d 640, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 35. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 35. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 38.

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POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

A writ of certiorari was granted in this case to consider whether, in those States that entrust the sentencing responsibility to the jury, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment bars the jury from rendering higher sentences on retrials following reversals of prior convictions. In North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711 (1969), this Court established limitations on the imposition of higher sentences by judges in similar circumstances. While we reaffirm the underlying rationale of Pearce that vindictiveness against the accused for having successfully overturned his conviction has no place in the resentencing process, whether by judge or jury, we hold today that due process of law does not require extension of Pearce-type restrictions to jury sentencing.


Early in 1969, petitioner was tried by a jury in a Georgia state criminal court on a charge of robbery by open force or violence, a capital offense at that time. The jury, which had been instructed that it was empowered to impose a sentence of death, life imprisonment, or a term of years,1 found petitioner guilty and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. He appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, claiming primarily that the trial judge had given an erroneous jury instruction as to the

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defendant's burden of proving an alibi defense. His claim was rejected and his conviction was affirmed. [93 S.Ct. 1979] 225 Ga. 602, 170 S.E.2d 426 (1969). Thereafter, he renewed that claim in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The District Court found petitioner's contention meritorious, granted the writ, and ordered him returned to the state court for retrial.

Upon retrial before a different judge and a new jury, petitioner was again found guilty. A comparison of the trial transcripts in the two cases indicates that the trials were similar in most respects. The case was prosecuted on both occasions by the same State's attorney and the same prosecution witnesses testified to the facts surrounding the alleged robbery. Petitioner, however, was represented by new counsel and, in addition to repeating his alibi defense, he interposed an insanity defense not offered at the former trial. New witnesses were called to testify for both sides on this issue. Also, while petitioner took the stand and made an unsworn statement in each case, his statement at the latter trial was longer, and contained autobiographical information not presented to the former jury, including an emotional discussion of his family background, an account of his religious affiliation, job history, previous physical injuries, and a rendition of several religious poems and songs he had written.2

The jury instructions on the permissible range of punishment were the same at each trial, and the prosecutor at the second trial urged the jury to sentence petitioner to death, as he had in his closing argument at the prior trial.3 This time, however, the jury returned a sentence

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of life imprisonment. The parties agree that the jury was not aware of the length of the sentence meted out by the former jury. And, although the jury was informed by one of petitioner's own witnesses that he had been tried previously on the same charge,4 the jury was not told that petitioner had been convicted and that his conviction had been overturned on collateral attack.5

Claiming primarily that it was improper for the State to allow the jury to render a harsher sentence on retrial, petitioner appealed again to the State Supreme Court. That court affirmed the lower court's judgment and refused to alter petitioner's sentence. 227 Ga. 327, 180 S.E.2d 741 (1971). [93 S.Ct. 1980] He then filed his second application for habeas relief in the Federal District Court, arguing that the higher sentence was invalid under Pearce.

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The District Court disagreed, and declined to issue the writ. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the District Court's judgment was affirmed in an opinion holding that the higher sentence received in this case was not violative of due process. 455 F.2d 640 (1972). Because two other federal courts of appeals had held, to the contrary, that Pearce restrictions are applicable,6 we granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. 409 U.S. 12 (1972).


Georgia is one of a small number of States that entrust the sentencing function in felony cases to the jury, rather than to the judge.7 While much has been written on the questions whether jury sentencing is desirable8 and whether it is compatible with the modern philosophy of criminal sentencing that "the punishment should fit the offender, and not merely the crime," Williams v. New

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York, 337 U.S. 241, 247 (1949), this Court has never expressed doubt about the constitutionality of that practice. See McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 196-208 (1971); Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 519-520 and n. 15 (1968); Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554, 560 (1967); Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 405 n. 8 (1966). The States have always enjoyed "wide leeway in dividing responsibility between judge and jury in criminal cases." Spencer v. Texas, supra, at 560. If a State concludes that jury sentencing is preferable because, for instance, it guarantees the maintenance of a "link between contemporary community values and the penal system," Witherspoon v. Illinois, supra, at 519 n. 15, or because "juries are more likely to act with compassion, fairness, and understanding than the judge," Stubbs, Jury Sentencing in Georgia -- Time For a Change?, 5 Ga.St.B.J. 421, 426 (1969), nothing in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment intrudes upon that choice.

Petitioner does not question this proposition. Instead, he contends that, although the jury may set the sentence, its range of discretion must be subjected to limitations similar to those imposed when the sentencing function on retrial is performed by the judge. While primary reliance, therefore, is placed on this Court's recent opinion in Pearce, petitioner asserts three distinct due process claims: (A) higher sentences on retrial violate the double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment, made binding on the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 793-796 (1969); [93 S.Ct. 1981] (B) higher sentences occasioned by vindictiveness on the part of the sentencing authority violate traditional concepts of fairness in the criminal process; and (C) the possibility of a higher sentence, even absent a reasonable fear of vindictiveness,

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has an impermissible "chilling effect" on the exercise of the rights to appeal and to attack collaterally a conviction. Each claim will be considered separately.


The question presented in Pearce, arising in the context of judicial resentencing, was framed as follows:

When, at the behest of the defendant, a criminal conviction has been set aside and a new trial ordered, to what extent does the Constitution limit the imposition of a harsher sentence after conviction upon retrial?

395 U.S. at 713. In addressing first the double jeopardy claim, the Court recognized the long-accepted power of a State "to retry a defendant who has succeeded in getting his first conviction set aside," id. at 720 (emphasis in original); United States v. Tateo, 377 U.S. 463 (1964), and, as a "corollary" of that power, "to impose whatever sentence may be legally authorized, whether or not it is greater than the sentence imposed after the first conviction." 395 U.S. at 720.

The foundational precedent from which the Court's view of resentencing discretion derives is Stroud v. United States, 251 U.S. 15 (1919), a case which, because it involved jury resentencing, is central to the double jeopardy claim in the present case. Robert Stroud, popularly known as "The Birdman of Alcatraz,"9 was indicted for the murder of a federal prison guard at Leavenworth, Kansas. After being convicted and sentenced by a jury to life imprisonment, he won a retrial upon a confession of error by the Solicitor General. His retrial resulted in another verdict of guilty...

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