461 U.S. 499 (1983), 81-1463, United States v. Hasting

Docket Nº:No. 81-1463.
Citation:461 U.S. 499, 103 S.Ct. 1974, 76 L.Ed.2d 96
Party Name:UNITED STATES, Petitioner v. Kelvin HASTING et al.
Case Date:May 23, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 499

461 U.S. 499 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 1974, 76 L.Ed.2d 96

UNITED STATES, Petitioner

v.

Kelvin HASTING et al.

No. 81-1463.

United States Supreme Court.

May 23, 1983

Argued Dec. 7, 1982.

[103 S.Ct. 1975] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

At respondents' trial in Federal District Court on charges of kidnaping, transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes, and conspiracy to commit such offenses, the victims' testimony included recitals concerning multiple incidents of rape and sodomy by respondents. The defense relied on a theory of consent and--inconsistently--on the possibility that the victims' identification of respondents was mistaken. None of the respondents testified. During the prosecutor's summation to the jury, defense counsel objected when the prosecutor began to comment on the defense evidence, particularly that respondents never challenged the kidnaping, the interstate transportation of the victims, and the sexual acts. A motion for a mistrial was denied, and the jury returned a guilty verdict as to each respondent on all counts. The Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and remanded for retrial, concluding that the summation violated respondents' Fifth Amendment rights under Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106. The court declined to rely on the harmless-error doctrine, stating that application of the doctrine "would impermissibly compromise the clear constitutional violation of the defendants' Fifth Amendment rights."

Held:

1. The Court of Appeals erred in reversing the convictions apparently on the basis that it had the supervisory power to discipline prosecutors for continuing violations of Griffin, supra, regardless of whether the prosecutor's arguments constituted harmless error. Pp. 1978-1981.

(a) The goals that are implicated by supervisory powers--implementing a remedy for violation of recognized rights, preserving judicial integrity by ensuring that a conviction rests on appropriate considerations before the jury, and deterring illegal conduct--are not significant in the context of this case if the errors alleged are harmless. Reversals of convictions under a court's supervisory power must be approached with some caution and with a view toward balancing the interests involved. Pp. 1978-1979.

(b) Chapman v. United States, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705, held that a Griffin error is not per se error requiring automatic reversal and that a conviction should be affirmed if the reviewing court concludes that, on the whole record, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the reviewing court's duty to consider the trial record as a whole and to ignore

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errors that are harmless, including most constitutional violations. Here, the Court of Appeals' analysis, in making passing reference to the harmless-error doctrine but not applying it, failed to strike the [103 S.Ct. 1976] balance between disciplining the prosecutor on the one hand, and the interest in the prompt administration of justice and the victims' interests in not being subjected to the burdens of another trial on the other. Pp. 1979-1981.

2. On the whole record, the error identified by the Court of Appeals was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. This Court has the authority to review records to evaluate a harmless-error claim, and the pertinent question here is whether, absent the prosecutor's allusion to the failure of the defense to proffer evidence to rebut the victims' testimony, it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury would have returned a guilty verdict. The victims' testimony negated any doubt as to identification, and neutral witnesses corroborated critical aspects of the victims' testimony, thus establishing a compelling case of guilt. On the other hand, the scanty evidence tendered by respondents related to their claims of mistaken identity and consent. The patent inconsistency of these defense theories could hardly have escaped the jurors' attention. Pp. 1981-1982.

660 F.2d 301 (7th Cir., 1981), reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL

John Fichter De Pue argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Jensen, Deputy Solicitor General Frey, and Harriet S. Shapiro.

Paul Victor Esposito, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Robert C. Babione and William L. Gagen.

John F. DePue, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Paul V. Esposito, Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

OPINION

Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to review the reversal of respondents' convictions because of prosecutorial allusion to their failure to rebut the Government's evidence.

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I

On October 11, 1979, in the vicinity of East St. Louis, Ill., three young women and a man, Randy Newcomb, were riding in an automobile when a turquoise Cadillac forced them off the road. The occupants of the car, later identified as Napoleon Stewart, Gregory Williams, Gable Gibson, Kevin Anderson, and Kelvin Hasting, respondents here, forcibly removed the women from the car in which they were riding with Newcomb; in Newcomb's presence, Stewart and Gibson immediately raped one of them and forced her to perform acts of sodomy. Newcomb was left behind while the three women were then taken in the Cadillac to a vacant garage in St. Louis, Mo.; there they were raped and forced to perform deviant sexual acts. Two of the women were then taken to Stewart's home where Stewart and Williams took turns raping and sodomizing them. The third victim was taken in a separate car to another garage where the other respondents repeatedly raped her and compelled her to perform acts of sodomy.

About 6:00 a.m., the three women were released and they immediately contacted the St. Louis police; they furnished descriptions of the five men, the turquoise Cadillac and the locations of the sexual attacks. From these descriptions, the police immediately identified one of the places to which the women were taken--the home of respondent, Napoleon Stewart. With the consent of Stewart's mother, police entered the home, arrested Stewart, and found various items of the victims' clothing and personal effects. The turquoise Cadillac was located, seized, and found to be registered to Williams. On the basis of the information gathered, the police arrested Williams, Gibson, Anderson and Hasting, all of whom were later identified by the victims during police lineups.

Respondents were charged with kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1), transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes in violation of the Mann Act, 18

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U.S.C. § 2421, and conspiracy to commit the foregoing offenses in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. They were tried before a jury. The defense relied on a theory of consent and--inconsistently--on the possibility that the victims' identification of the respondents was mistaken. None of the respondents testified.

[103 S.Ct. 1977] At the close of the case, and during the summation of the prosecutor, the following interchange took place:

"PROSECUTOR: Let's look at the evidence the defendants put on here for you so that we can put that in perspective. I'm going to tell you what the defendants did not do. Defendants on cross-examination and--

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I'll object to that, Your Honor. You're going to instruct to the contrary on that and the defendants don't have to put on any evidence.

PROSECUTOR: That's correct, Your Honor.

THE COURT: That's right, they don't. They don't have to.

PROSECUTOR: But if they do put on a case, the Government can comment on it. The defendants at no time ever challenged any of the rapes, whether or not that occurred, any of the sodomies. They didn't challenge the kidnapping, the fact that the girls were in East St. Louis and they were taken across to St. Louis. They never challenged the transportation of the victims from East St. Louis, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri, and they never challenged the location or whereabouts of the defendants at all the relevant times. They want you to focus your attention on all of the events that were before all of the crucial events of that evening. They want to pull your focus away from the beginning of the incident in East St. Louis after they were bumped, and then the proceeding events. They want you to focus to the events prior to that. And you can use your common sense and still see what that tells you...." Tr. 873-874.

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A motion for a mistrial was denied. The jury returned a verdict of guilty as to each respondent on all counts.

On appeal, various errors were alleged, including a claim that the prosecutor violated respondents' Fifth Amendment rights under Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106 (1965). 1 In a terse per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and remanded for retrial, citing its decision in United States v. Buege, 578 F.2d 187 (CA7), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 871, 99 S.Ct. 203, 58 L.Ed.2d 183 (1978), for the proposition that Griffin error occurs even without a direct statement on the failure of a defendant to take the stand when the "prosecutor refers to testimony as uncontradicted where the defendant has elected not to testify and when he is the only person able to dispute the testimony." The Court of Appeals declined to rely on the harmless error doctrine, however, stating that application of that doctrine "would impermissibly compromise the clear constitutional violation of the defendants' Fifth Amendment rights." 660 F.2d 301. Respondents' remaining claims were disposed of in an...

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