466 U.S. 341 (1984), 82-6840, James v. Kentucky

Docket Nº:No. 82-6840
Citation:466 U.S. 341, 104 S.Ct. 1830, 80 L.Ed.2d 346
Party Name:James v. Kentucky
Case Date:April 18, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 341

466 U.S. 341 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 1830, 80 L.Ed.2d 346

James

v.

Kentucky

No. 82-6840

United States Supreme Court

April 18, 1984

Argued February 28, 1984

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF KENTUCKY

Syllabus

In petitioner's criminal trial in a Kentucky state court, the judge overruled defense counsel's request that "an admonition be given to the jury that no emphasis be given to the defendant's failure to testify." Petitioner was convicted, and on appeal he argued that the trial judge's refusal to charge the jury as requested violated Carter v. Kentucky, 450 U.S. 288, which held that, in order fully to effectuate the right to remain silent, a trial judge must, if requested to do so, instruct the jury not to draw an adverse inference from the defendant's failure to testify. Conceding that Carter requires the trial judge, upon request, to give an appropriate instruction, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that the trial court properly denied petitioner's request because there was a "vast difference" under Kentucky law between an "admonition" and an "instruction," and petitioner, who would have been entitled to an "instruction," had requested only an "admonition."

Held:

1. In the circumstances of this case, the failure to respect petitioner's constitutional rights is not supported by an independent and adequate state ground. Pp. 344-351.

(a) Kentucky generally distinguishes between "instructions" -- which tend to be statements of black-letter law setting forth the legal rules governing the outcome of a case -- and "admonitions" -- which tend to be cautionary statements regarding the jury's conduct, such as statements requiring the jury to disregard certain testimony. However, the substantive distinction between admonitions and instructions is not always clear or closely hewn to, and their content can overlap. Nor is there strict adherence to the practice of giving admonitions orally only, while giving instructions in writing as well. Pp. 345-348.

(b) For federal constitutional purposes, petitioner adequately invoked his substantive right to jury guidance, and Kentucky's distinction between admonitions and instructions is not the sort of firmly established and regularly followed state practice that can prevent implementation of federal constitutional rights. To insist on a particular label for the statement to the jury required by Carter would "force resort to an arid ritual of meaningless form," Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 320, and would further no perceivable state interest. Pp. 348-349.

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(c) This is not a case, as asserted by the State, of a defendant attempting to [104 S.Ct. 1832] circumvent, as a matter of deliberate strategy, a firm state procedural rule that instructions be in writing. The record reveals little to support the State's view of petitioner's request, a single passing reference to an "admonition" being far too slender a reed on which to rest the conclusion that petitioner insisted on an oral statement and nothing else. Where it is inescapable that the defendant sought to invoke the substance of his federal right, the asserted state law defect in form must be more evident than it is here. Pp. 349-351.

2. Evaluation of the State's contention that any Carter error here was harmless is best made in state court before it is made in this Court. Pp. 351-352.

647 S.W.2d 94, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 352. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Carter v. Kentucky, 450 U.S. 288 (1981), we held that a trial judge must, if requested to do so, instruct the jury not to draw an adverse inference from the defendant's failure to take the stand. In this case, the Kentucky Supreme Court found that the trial judge was relieved of that obligation because defense counsel requested an "admonition," rather than an "instruction."

I

Petitioner Michael James was indicted for receipt of stolen property, burglary, and rape.1 James had been convicted of

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two prior felonies -- forgery and murder -- and the prosecution warned that, were James to take the stand, it would use the forgery conviction to impeach his testimony. During voir dire, defense counsel asked the prospective jurors how they would feel were James not to testify. After a brief exchange between counsel and one member of the venire, the trial judge interrupted, stating:

They have just said they would try the case solely upon the law and the evidence. That excludes any other consideration.

App. 30.2 With that, voir dire came to a close. James did not testify at trial.

At the close of testimony, counsel and the judge had an off-the-record discussion about instructions. When they returned on the record, James' lawyer noted that he objected to several of the instructions being given, and that he

requests that an admonition be given to the jury that no emphasis be given to the defendant's failure to testify which was overruled.

Id. at 95.3 The judge then instructed the jury,

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which returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. At a subsequent persistent felony offender proceeding, the jury sentenced James to life imprisonment in light of his two previous convictions.

On appeal, James argued that the trial judge's refusal to tell the jury not to draw an adverse inference from his failure to testify violated Carter v. Kentucky, supra. The Kentucky Supreme Court conceded that Carter requires the trial judge, upon request, to instruct the jury not to draw an adverse inference. 647 S.W.2d 794, 795 (1983). The court noted, however, that James had requested an admonition, rather than an instruction, and there is a "vast difference" between the two under state law. He "was entitled to the instruction, but did not ask for it. The trial court properly denied the request for an admonition." Id. at 795-796. We granted certiorari, 464 U.S. 913 (1983), to determine whether petitioner's asserted procedural default adequately supports the result below. We now reverse.

II

In Carter, we held that, in order fully to effectuate the right to remain silent, a trial judge must instruct the jury not to draw an adverse inference from the defendant's failure to testify if requested to do so. James argues that the essence of the holding in Carter is that the judge must afford some form of guidance to the jury, and that the admonition he

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sought was the "functional equivalent" of the instruction required by Carter. The State responds that the trial judge was under no obligation to provide an admonition when, under Kentucky practice, James should have sought an instruction. An examination of the state law background is necessary to understand these arguments.

A

Kentucky distinguishes between "instructions" and "admonitions." The former tend to be statements of blackletter law, the latter cautionary statements regarding the jury's conduct. See generally Webster v. Commonwealth, 508 S.W.2d 33, 36 (Ky.App.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1070 (1974); Miller v. Noell, 193 Ky. 659, 237 S.W. 373 (App.1922). Thus, "admonitions" include statements to the jury requiring it to disregard certain testimony, Perry v. Commonwealth, 652 S.W.2d 655, 662 (Ky.1983); Stallings v. Commonwealth, 556 S.W.2d 4, 5 (Ky.1977), to consider particular evidence for purposes of evaluating credibility only, Harris v. Commonwealth, 556 S.W.2d 669, 670 (Ky.1977); Lynch v. Commonwealth, 472 S.W.2d 263, 266 (Ky.App.1971), and to consider evidence as to one codefendant only, Ware v. Commonwealth, 537 S.W.2d 174, 177 (Ky.1976). The State Rules of Criminal Procedure provide that, at each adjournment, the jury is to be "admonished" not to discuss the case. Ky.Rule Crim. Proc. 9.70 ("Admonition"). See generally 1 J. Palmore & R. Lawson, Instructions to Juries in Kentucky 16-20, 397-404 (1975) (hereinafter Palmore).

Instructions, on the other hand, set forth the legal rules governing the outcome of a case. They

state what the jury must believe from the evidence . . . in order to return a verdict in favor of the party who bears the burden of proof.

Webster v. Commonwealth, supra, at 36. The judge reads the instructions to the jury at the end [104 S.Ct. 1834] of the trial, and provides it a written copy. Ky.Rule Crim. Proc. 9.54(1). After Carter, Kentucky amended its Criminal Rules to

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provide that, if the defendant so requests, the instructions must state that he is not compelled to testify and that the jury shall not draw an adverse inference from his election not to. Rule 9.54(3).4

The substantive distinction between admonitions and instructions is not always clear or closely hewn to. Kentucky's highest court has recognized that the content of admonitions and instructions can overlap. In a number of cases, for example, it has referred to a trial court's failure either to instruct or to admonish the jury on a particular point, indicating that either was a possibility. E.g., Caldwell v. Commonwealth, 503 S.W.2d 485, 493-494 (1972) ("instructions" did not contain a particular "admonition," but the "failure to admonish or instruct" was harmless); Reeves v. Commonwealth, 462 S.W.2d 926, 930, cert. denied, 404 U.S. 836 (1971). See also Bennett v. Horton, 592 S.W.2d 460, 464 (1979) ("instructions" included the "admonition" that the jury could make a certain setoff against the award); Carson v. Commonwealth, 382 S.W.2d 85, 95 (1964) ("The fourth instruction was the usual reasonable doubt admonition"). The court has acknowledged that "sometimes...

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