517 U.S. 416 (1996), 94-9247, Carlisle v. United States

Docket Nº:Case No. 94-9247
Citation:517 U.S. 416, 116 S.Ct. 1460, 134 L.Ed.2d 613, 64 U.S.L.W. 4293
Party Name:CARLISLE v. UNITED STATES
Case Date:April 29, 1996
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 416

517 U.S. 416 (1996)

116 S.Ct. 1460, 134 L.Ed.2d 613, 64 U.S.L.W. 4293

CARLISLE

v.

UNITED STATES

Case No. 94-9247

United States Supreme Court

April 29, 1996

Argued January 16, 1996

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

At his trial on a federal marijuana charge, petitioner filed his motion for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) after the jury returned a guilty verdict and was discharged. The District Court granted the motion even though it was filed one day outside the time limit prescribed by Rule 29(c), which provides, inter alia, that "[i]f the jury returns a verdict of guilty . . . , a motion for judgment of acquittal may be made or renewed within 7 days after the jury is discharged or within such further time as the court may fix during the 7-day period." In reversing and remanding for reinstatement of the verdict and for sentencing, the Sixth Circuit held that under Rule 29 a district court has no jurisdiction to grant an untimely motion for judgment of acquittal, or to enter such a judgment sua sponte after submission of the case to the jury.

Held:

The District Court had no authority to grant petitioner's motion for judgment of acquittal filed one day outside the Rule 29(c) time limit. Pp. 419-433.

(a) The Rules do not permit the granting of an untimely postverdict motion for judgment of acquittal. Rule 29(c)'s text, when read with Rule 45(b)'s statement that "the court may not extend the time for taking any action under Rul[e] 29 . . . except to the extent and under the conditions stated in [the Rule]," is plain and unambiguous: If, as in this case, a guilty verdict is returned, a motion for judgment of acquittal must be filed either within seven days of the jury's discharge or within an extended period fixed by the court during that 7-day period. Furthermore, in light of Rule 29(c)'s clarity, petitioner cannot rely either on Rule 2, which requires that ambiguous Rules "be construed to secure simplicity in procedure, fairness in administration and the elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay," or on Rule 57, which allows district courts discretion to regulate practice when there is no controlling law. Pp. 419-425.

(b) This Court rejects petitioner's invocation of courts' "inherent supervisory power" as alternative authority for the District Court's action. Whatever the scope of federal courts' inherent power to formulate procedural rules not specifically required by the Constitution or the Congress, it does not include the power to develop rules that circumvent or conflict with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Page 417

See, e. g., Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States, 487 U.S. 250, 254-255. Whether the District Court's action is described as the granting of an untimely motion, or the sua sponte entry of a judgment of acquittal, it contradicted Rule 29(c)'s plain language and effectively annulled the 7-day filing limit. The cautionary principle that the Court will not lightly assume that the Rules mean to depart from established principles does not apply in this case, because prior to the enactment of Rule 29, there was no long, unquestioned power of federal district courts to acquit for insufficient evidence sua sponte, after return of a guilty verdict. Pp. 425-428.

(c) The Court also rejects petitioner's remaining arguments: (1) that the District Court had power to order acquittal in this case under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651, through the writ of coram nobis; (2) that the failure to allow the District Court to order acquittal would violate the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause; and (3) that prohibiting a district court from granting an acquittal motion filed only one day late will lead to needless appeals and habeas corpus proceedings. Pp. 428-430.

(d) The Court rebuts arguments put forward by the dissent, including the proposition that permissive rules do not withdraw pre-existing inherent powers, and the dissent's reliance on this Court's precedents to support the existence of the "inherent power" petitioner invokes. Pp. 430-433.

48 F.3d 190, affirmed.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 434. Ginsburg, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Souter and Breyer, JJ., joined, post, p. 434. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy,J., joined, post, p. 436.

James A. Christopherson argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Joel R. Myler.

Paul A. Engelmayer argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and David S. Kris.

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a district court has authority to grant a postverdict motion for judgment of

Page 418

acquittal filed one day outside the time limit prescribed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c).

I

Petitioner Charles Carlisle, along with several codefendants, was tried by jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 846, 84 Stat. 1260, 1265. He did not move during the trial for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a). On July 13, 1993, the jury returned a guilty verdict and was discharged. On July 23, 1993, Carlisle filed a "Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c)," arguing that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. App. 6-9. Rule 29(c) provides that "a motion for judgment of acquittal may be made or renewed within 7 days after the jury is discharged or within such further time as the court may fix during the 7-day period." Excluding the intermediate Saturday and Sunday (as Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 45(a) requires), the 7-day period in this case ended on July 22, 1993. The United States' response to Carlisle's motion argued that it should be denied as untimely and, alternatively, that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. The District Court denied Carlisle's motion on August 19, 1993. Its written opinion did not address the timeliness issue, but concluded that the evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Carlisle knew about, and knowingly and voluntarily joined, the charged conspiracy.

When Carlisle appeared for sentencing on October 14, 1993, the District Court announced that it was reversing its ruling. When it made its decision in August, the court said, it had prepared two opinions, one granting and one denying the motion, and it had now decided to substitute the former for the latter. The court subsequently entered an order that

Page 419

(i) withdrew the opinion and order denying the motion to acquit and (ii) granted "Carlisle's motion for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29(c), filed July 23, 1993." App.45. An opinion accompanying the order concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Carlisle knowingly and voluntarily joined the conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana. In a footnote, the opinion acknowledged that the motion for judgment of acquittal was filed one day late, but concluded:

". . . I can conceive of no prejudice to the United States which will result from consideration of a motion that is one day lat[e] in this case. Because I believe that refusal to hear this motion would result in grave injustice, and because [Rule 29(c)] permits the Court to extend the deadline, I will consider this motion as if it were filed in a timely manner." Id., at 37.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of acquittal and remanded to the District Court for reinstatement of the jury's verdict and for sentencing. It held that under Rule 29 a district court has no jurisdiction to grant an untimely motion for judgment of acquittal, and that a district court has no jurisdiction to enter a judgment of acquittal sua sponte after the case has been submitted to the jury. 48 F.3d 190, 192 (1995). We granted certiorari. 515 U.S. 1191 (1995).

II

Petitioner argues that district courts "should be given the power to go outside the strict time limits of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c)" when (1) there is a claim that the defendant was legally innocent, (2) the motion is filed prior to sentencing, and (3) the motion was not timely filed because of attorney error. Brief for Petitioner 8. Petitioner seeks to root this argument in, among other places, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Page 420

Rule 29 is reproduced in its entirety below.[1] Subdivision(c) provides, in relevant part, that "[i]f the jury returns a verdict of guilty . . . , a motion for judgment of acquittal may

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be made or renewed within 7 days after the jury is discharged or within such further time as the court may fix during the 7-day period." Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 45(b) provides that whereas certain untimely acts may be accorded validity upon a showing of excusable neglect, "the court may not extend the time for taking any action under Rul[e] 29 . . . except to the extent and under the conditions stated in [the Rule]." These Rules are plain and unambiguous. If, as in this case, a guilty verdict is returned, a motion for judgment of acquittal must be filed, either within seven days of the jury's discharge, or within an extended period fixed by the court during that 7-day period. There is simply no room in the text of Rules 29 and 45(b) for the granting of an untimely postverdict motion for judgment of acquittal,...

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