433 U.S. 676 (1977), 76-1206, Finch v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 76-1206
Citation:433 U.S. 676, 97 S.Ct. 2909, 53 L.Ed.2d 1048
Party Name:Finch v. United States
Case Date:June 29, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

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433 U.S. 676 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 2909, 53 L.Ed.2d 1048



United States

No. 76-1206

United States Supreme Court

June 29, 1977




Where, prior to any declaration of guilt or innocence, the District Court dismissed an information against petitioner on the ground that it failed to state an offense, the Government's appeal from the dismissal was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Certiorari granted; 548 F.2d 822, vacated and remanded.

Per curiam opinion.


In an information filed in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, petitioner was charged with knowingly fishing on a portion of the Big Horn River in Montana reserved for use by the Crow Indians, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1165. The case was submitted to the District Court on an agreed statement of facts, which showed that petitioner had cast his lure into the river while standing on land owned by the State of Montana within the exterior boundaries of the Crow Reservation. After considering the stipulated facts and reviewing the applicable treaties, the court dismissed the information for failure to state an offense. 395 F.Supp. 205 (1975).

On the Government's appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 548 F.2d 822 (1976). The court held that the appeal was permissible under 18 U.S.C. § 3731 [97 S.Ct. 2910] and the Double Jeopardy Clause because, as in United States v. Wilson, 420 U.S. 332 (1975), no further factual proceedings would be required in the District Court in the event that its legal conclusions were found to be erroneous:

Here, as in Wilson, it is easy to separate factual resolutions from determinations of law. No additional facts must be found to determine whether the stipulation supports the conviction of the defendant. The only determination to be made is a legal one.

548 F.2d at 827.

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On the merits, the court viewed the pertinent treaties differently from the District Court, and held that petitioner had violated 18 U.S.C. § 1165 "by willfully and knowingly fishing without lawful authority or permission of the tribe." 548 F.2d at 835. The court directed entry of a judgment of conviction.

We think that the Court of Appeals was without jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. When the District Court dismissed the information, jeopardy had attached, see Serfass v. United States, 420 U.S. 377, 388 (1975), but no formal finding of guilt or innocence had been entered, see United States v. Jenkins, 420 U.S. 358 (1975); Lee v. United States, 432 U.S. 23, 28 n. 4, 29 n. 7 (1977). In these circumstances, the holding of United States v. Wilson is inapposite. A successful Government appeal "would not justify a reversal with instructions to reinstate the general finding of guilt: there was no such finding, in form or substance, to reinstate." United States v. Jenkins, supra at 368. Absent a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, see Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 11, a verdict or general finding of guilt by the trial court is a necessary predicate to conviction. See Rule 23(c). Because the dismissal was granted prior to any declaration of guilt or innocence, "on the ground, correct or not, that the defendant simply cannot be convicted of the offense charged," Lee, supra at 30, we hold that the Government's appeal was barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause.

We grant the petition for certiorari, vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remand to that court with directions that the appeal be dismissed.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS would grant certiorari and set the case for oral argument.

REHNQUIST, J., dissenting

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.

I dissent from the summary disposition of this case for two reasons. The first is that the factual assumption, made

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both by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and by this Court, that petitioner and respondent had agreed to submit the issue of guilt to the District Court on the "agreed statement of facts" is by no means clear from Judge Battin's principal opinion in this case, 395 F.Supp. 205. My second reason for disagreeing with summary disposition is that this Court has never passed on any claim of double jeopardy where the issues were submitted on an agreed statement of facts, rather than to a jury for its verdict or to the court for a finding of guilt or innocence after...

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