546 U.S. 12 (2005), 04-9949, Eberhart v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 04-9949.
Citation:546 U.S. 12, 126 S.Ct. 403, 163 L.Ed.2d 14
Case Date:October 31, 2005
Court:United States Supreme Court

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546 U.S. 12 (2005)

126 S.Ct. 403, 163 L.Ed.2d 14




No. 04-9949.

United States Supreme Court

October 31, 2005



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Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(a) allows a district court to "vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." But "[a]ny motion for a new trial grounded on any reason other than newly discovered evidence must be filed within 7 days after the verdict or finding of guilty, or within such further time as the court sets during the 7-day period." Rule 33(b)(2). This deadline is rigid. The Rules provide that courts "may not extend the time to take any action under [Rule 33], except as stated" in Rule 33 itself. Rule 45(b)(2). The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has construed Rule 33's time limitations as "jurisdictional," permitting the Government to raise noncompliance with those limitations for the first time on appeal. 388 F.3d 1043, 1049 (2004). However, there is "a critical difference between a rule governing subject-matter jurisdiction and an inflexible claim-processing rule." Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 456, 124 S.Ct. 906, 157 L.Ed.2d 867 (2004). Rule 33 is an example of the latter. We grant the petition for certiorari and the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and [126 S.Ct. 404] reverse the judgment of the Seventh Circuit.


Petitioner Ivan Eberhart was convicted of one count of conspiring to distribute cocaine. On the last day available for post-trial motions, he moved for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, for a new trial. That motion raised a single ground for relief--an alleged flaw in a transcript that had been published to the jury. Nearly six months later, petitioner filed a "supplemental memorandum" supporting his motion. Two additional grounds appeared in that filing--admission of potential hearsay testimony into evidence, and the District Court's failure to give a so-called "buyer-seller instruction" to the jury. 388 F. 3d, at 1047-1048. Rather than arguing, however, that the untimeliness of the supplemental memorandum barred the District Court from

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considering the issues it raised, the Government opposed it on the merits.

The District Court granted the motion for a new trial, citing all three grounds raised by petitioner. The judge concluded that " 'none of these concerns standing alone or in pairing would cause me to grant a new trial,' " but that taken together, they " 'persuade me that the interests of justice require a new trial.' " Id., at 1048. The judge also predicted that " 'a new trial will quite likely lead to another conviction.' " Ibid.

On appeal, the Government pointed to the untimeliness of petitioner's supplemental memorandum, and argued that the District Court had abused its discretion in granting a new trial based on the arguments that the memorandum had raised. The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of a new trial, finding that the District Court had lacked jurisdiction to grant one. The Seventh Circuit observed: "The Supreme Court has held that Rule 45(b)'s prohibition on extensions of time is 'mandatory and jurisdictional.' " Id., at 1049 (quoting United States v. Robinson, 361 U.S. 220, 229, 80 S.Ct. 282, 4 L.Ed.2d 259 (1960), and citing United States v. Smith, 331 U.S. 469, 474, n. 2, 67 S.Ct. 1330, 91 L.Ed. 1610 (1947)). Based on Robinson and Smith, the Seventh Circuit explained, " '[w]e have previously emphasized that [Rule 33's] 7-day period is jurisdictional, and that the court is without jurisdiction to consider even an amendment to a timely new trial motion if it is filed outside the seven day period, absent a timely extension by the court or new evidence.' " 388 F. 3d, at 1049 (quoting United States v. Washington, 184 F.3d 653, 659 (C.A.7 1999)).

The Court of Appeals did, however, express some misgiving. After describing the holding of Kontrick, it commented that "[t]he reasoning of Kontrick may suggest that Rule 33's time limits are merely inflexible claim-processing rules that could be forfeited if not timely asserted." 388 F. 3d, at 1049. It concluded...

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