429 U.S. 1111 (1977), 75-6898, Freeman v. Zahradnick

Docket Nº:No. 75-6898
Citation:429 U.S. 1111, 97 S.Ct. 1150, 51 L.Ed.2d 566
Party Name:Jesse James FREEMAN v. Robert F. ZAHRADNICK, Superintendent, Virginia State Penitentiary
Case Date:February 22, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 1111

429 U.S. 1111 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1150, 51 L.Ed.2d 566

Jesse James FREEMAN


Robert F. ZAHRADNICK, Superintendent, Virginia State Penitentiary

No. 75-6898

United States Supreme Court.

February 22, 1977


On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice STEWART, dissenting.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL'S dissent from the denial of certiorari expresses "grave doubts" that there was any evidence at all to support the petitioner's conviction. Although unable to accept the view that this conviction is susceptible to challenge under the "no evidence" rule of Thompson v. City of

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Louisville, 362 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 624, 4 L.Ed.2d 654, I would grant certiorari to reconsider the doctrine of the Thompson case in the light of this Court's more recent decision in In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368.

The Winship case held that the Due Process Clause requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every element of a criminal offense. A jury must be instructed accordingly. Properly instructed juries, however, occasionally convict even when it can be said that no rational trier of fact could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt even when it is clear that the defendant was entitled to a directed verdict of acquittal as a matter of law. In a federal trial, such improper application of law (as defined by Winship ) to fact requires reversal of the conviction on the ground of insufficient evidence.

The power of a federal court to review the application of federal law to the facts as found also operates, however, in criminal cases originating in state courts. On direct review of a state court conviction, this Court reviews the application of the "voluntariness" standard to the historical facts to determine whether a confession was admissible, [97 S.Ct. 1151]1 or the application of First Amendment standards to the facts as found to determine whether the conduct in issue was constitutionally protected,2 to take but two examples. The same rule is applied in federal habeas corpus actions. See generally Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 318, 83 S.Ct. 745, 9 L.Ed.2d 770; Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 506-507, 73 S.Ct. 397, 97 L.Ed. 469 (Frankfurter, J., concurring). It is not immediately apparent why application of the beyond a reasonable doubt standard of Winship to the historical facts should be any more immune from constitutional scrutiny. If, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, cf. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 62 S.Ct. 457, 86 L.Ed. 680, a federal court determines that no rational trier of fact could have found a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the state offense with which he

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was charged, it is surely arguable that the court must hold, under Winship, that the convicted defendant was denied due process of law.

What I am suggesting is simply that the question whether there was sufficient evidence to support a finding by a rational trier of fact of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt may be of constitutional dimension. Such a view would not require federal courts to second-guess state court findings of fact or a State's definition of the elements of a crime. 3 Rather, the federal courts would no more than perform a familiar and appropriate role reviewing the application of a substantive federal standard (the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt) to the historical facts.

The Court's decision in United States v. Romano, 382 U.S. 136, 86 S.Ct. 279, 15 L.Ed.2d 210, provides support for the approach I have described. Romano held that it was a violation of due process to instruct a jury that presence of a defendant at the site of an illegal still "shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize conviction (of possession of the still)." Id., at 138, 86 S.Ct. at 281. The Court disapproved that instruction because no rational jury could infer possession simply from the fact of presence. And in doing so, it relied upon the decision in Bozza v. United States, 330 U.S. 160, 67 S.Ct. 645, 91 L.Ed. 818, that presence alone was insufficient evidence to convict of possession. See 382 U.S., at 140-144, 86 S.Ct. 279. It seems to me that whether the jury has been expressly instructed that it could (though need not) make an irrational inference as in Romano or simply does so on its own as in Bozza is probably of no consequence. A jury that convicts in either case would appear to be acting equally irrationally and

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equally in derogation of the Due Process Clause's requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court said in Thompson v. City of Louisville that the question in that case turned "not on the sufficiency of the evidence, but on whether (the) conviction rests upon any evidence at all." 362 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 624, 4 L.Ed.2d 654; accord, Garner v. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157, 163, 82 S.Ct. 248, 7 L.Ed.2d 207; [97 S.Ct. 1152] Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U.S. 87, 94, 86 S.Ct. 211, 15 L.Ed.2d 176. But the logical application of the "no evidence" doctrine is not an easy matter. "(A) mere modicum of evidence may satisfy a 'no evidence' standard . . .." Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 202, 84 S.Ct. 1676, 12 L.Ed.2d 793 (Warren, C. J., dissenting). Any evidence that is relevant that has any tendency to make the existence of an element of a crime slightly more probable than it would be without the evidence, cf. Fed.Rule Evid. 401 could be thought to be a "mere modicum." Evidence that a defendant is a narcotics addict makes it more likely that he has stolen property (to finance his...

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