507 U.S. 87 (1992), 91-1300, United States v. Dunnigan

Docket Nº:No. 91-1300
Citation:507 U.S. 87, 113 S.Ct. 1111, 122 L.Ed.2d 445, 61 U.S.L.W. 4180
Party Name:United States v. Dunnigan
Case Date:February 23, 1993
Court:United States Supreme Court

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507 U.S. 87 (1992)

113 S.Ct. 1111, 122 L.Ed.2d 445, 61 U.S.L.W. 4180

United States



No. 91-1300

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1993

Argued Dec. 2, 1992




At respondent's federal trial for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, the Government's case-in-chief consisted of five witnesses who took part in, or observed, her cocaine trafficking. As the sole witness in her own defense, respondent denied the witnesses' inculpatory statements and claimed she had never possessed or distributed cocaine. In rebuttal, the Government called an additional witness and recalled one of its earlier witnesses, both of whom testified that respondent sold crack cocaine to them. Respondent was convicted and sentenced pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Finding that she had committed perjury, the District Court enhanced her sentence, which is required under § 3C1.1 of the Guidelines when a

defendant willfully impeded or obstructed, or attempted to impede or obstruct the administration of justice during the investigation or prosecution of the instant offense.

In reversing the sentence, the Court of Appeals found that a § 3C1.1 enhancement based on a defendant's alleged perjury would be unconstitutional. It also distinguished the precedent of United States v. Grayson, 438 U.S. 41 -- in which this Court upheld a sentence increase stemming from an accused's [113 S.Ct. 1113] false testimony at trial -- on the grounds that § 3C1.1's goal is punishment for obstruction of justice, rather than rehabilitation, and that, in contravention of the admonition in Grayson, § 3C1.1 is applied in a wooden or reflex fashion to enhance the sentences of all defendants whose testimony is deemed false.

Held: Upon a proper determination that the accused has committed perjury at trial, a court may enhance the accused's sentence under § 3C1.1. Pp. 92-98.

(a) The parties agree, and the commentary to § 3C1.1 is explicit, that the phrase "impede or obstruct the administration of justice" includes perjury. Perjury is committed when a witness testifying under oath or affirmation gives false testimony concerning a material matter with the willful intent to provide false testimony. Because a defendant can testify at trial and be convicted, yet not have committed perjury -- for example, the accused may give inaccurate testimony as a result of confusion, mistake, or faulty memory or give truthful testimony that a jury finds insufficient to excuse criminal liability or prove lack of intent -- not every testifying defendant who is convicted qualifies for a § 3C1.1

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enhancement. If a defendant objects to such an enhancement resulting from her trial testimony, a district court must review the evidence and make independent findings necessary to establish that the defendant committed perjury. While a court should address each element of the alleged perjury in a clear and distinct finding, its enhancement decision is sufficient where, as here, it makes a determination of an obstruction or impediment of justice that encompasses all of the factual predicates for a perjury finding. Pp. 92-96.

(b) An enhanced sentence for the willful presentation of false testimony does not undermine the right to testify. The concern that a court will enhance a sentence as a matter of course whenever the accused takes the stand and is found guilty is dispelled by the requirement that a district court make findings to support all the elements of a perjury violation in a specific case. Any risk from a district court's incorrect perjury findings is inherent in a system which insists on the value of testimony under oath. A § 3C1.1 enhancement is also more than a mere surrogate for a separate and subsequent perjury prosecution. It furthers legitimate sentencing goals relating to the principal crime, including retribution and incapacitation. The enhancement may not serve the additional goal of rehabilitation, which was the justification for enhancement in Grayson, but rehabilitation is not the only permissible justification for increasing a sentence based on perjury. Finally, the enhancement under § 3C1.1 is far from automatic -- when contested, the elements of perjury must be found by the district court with specificity -- and the fact that the enhancement stems from a congressional mandate, rather than from a court's discretionary judgment, cannot be grounds for its invalidation. Pp. 96-98.

944 F.2d 178 (CA4 1991), reversed.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

KENNEDY, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether the Constitution permits a court to enhance a defendant's sentence under United

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States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual § 3C1.1 (Nov.1989) if the court finds the defendant committed perjury at trial. We answer in the affirmative.


The respondent, Sharon Dunnigan, was charged in a single count indictment with conspiracy to distribute cocaine in violation [113 S.Ct. 1114] of 21 U.S.C. § 846. After entering a plea of not guilty, she stood trial.

The case-in-chief for the United States consisted of five witnesses who took part in or observed respondent's cocaine trafficking during the summer of 1988. The first witness was Freddie Harris, a cocaine dealer in Charleston, West Virginia. Harris testified that respondent traveled between Charleston and Cleveland, Ohio, numerous times during the summer in question to purchase cocaine for him. He further stated that either he or his associate John Dean accompanied respondent on several of these trips. Dean was the second witness, and he recounted his trips to Cleveland with respondent during the same period to purchase cocaine. He also described meetings with both respondent and Harris for the purpose of delivering cocaine.

Three more Government witnesses followed. Andre Charlton testified that respondent, at her own apartment, delivered several ounces of cocaine to Charlton and Harris. Charlton also attested to receiving cocaine from Dean which Dean said he and respondent had bought in Cleveland. Tammy Moore testified next. She described conversations during which respondent vouched for the high quality of the cocaine in Cleveland and suggested Moore accompany her on a trip to Cleveland. Then came the testimony of Wynema Brown, who repeated respondent's admissions of trips to Cleveland to purchase cocaine for Harris. Brown also stated she saw cocaine powder at respondent's apartment and witnessed respondent and her daughter convert the

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powder into crack cocaine for the daughter to sell. This ended the Government's case-in-chief.

Respondent elected to take the stand, and was the sole witness in her own defense. She denied all criminal acts attributed to her. She admitted going to Cleveland with Harris once, but claimed it was for an innocent purpose, not to buy or sell cocaine. She admitted knowing John Dean, but denied traveling with him to Cleveland. Last, she denied knowing that cocaine was brought into or sold from her apartment. On cross-examination, the Government questioned respondent regarding the testimony of the five prosecution witnesses. Respondent denied their inculpatory statements, and said she had not possessed or distributed cocaine during the summer in question, or at any other time. The Government also asked whether Edward Dickerson had been in her apartment or bought crack cocaine from her. Respondent answered no.

The defense rested, and the Government began its rebuttal with the testimony of Dickerson. He testified to purchasing crack cocaine from respondent on July 12, 1988, in a transaction monitored by law enforcement authorities. The Government also recalled Moore, who claimed respondent sold her crack cocaine about five times and provided cocaine powder to her and respondent's daughter to convert into crack cocaine for resale. According to Moore, the money from the resale was paid over to respondent. The jury returned a verdict of guilty.

Respondent was sentenced pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. See United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual (Nov.1989). Her base offense level was set at 22, and the Government requested that the base be increased by two offense levels under U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1, entitled "willfully obstructing or impeding proceedings," because respondent perjured herself at trial. After arguments from both sides, the District Court ruled on the request:

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The court finds that the defendant was untruthful at trial with respect to material matters in this case. The defendant denied her involvement when it is clear from the evidence in the case as the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that she was involved in the conspiracy alleged in the indictment, and by virtue of her failure to give truthful testimony on material matters that were designed to substantially affect the outcome of the case, the court concludes that the false testimony at trial warrants an upward adjustment by two levels.

App. 29. Based upon the enhanced offense level 24 and a criminal history category I, the District Court sentenced respondent to 51 months' incarceration, which was at the low end of the Guidelines range.

Respondent appealed her sentence, and the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's decision to increase respondent's offense level under U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1. 944 F.2d 178 (CA4 1991). The Court of Appeals did not take issue with the District Court's factual findings or rule that further findings were necessary to support a § 3C1.1 enhancement. Instead, the court held that a § 3C1.1 enhancement based on a defendant's alleged perjury at trial would be unconstitutional. The court reasoned that "every defendant who takes the stand and is convicted [would] be given the obstruction of...

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