Barnes v. United States 8212 5443, No. 72

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPOWELL
Citation93 S.Ct. 2357,412 U.S. 837,37 L.Ed.2d 380
PartiesJames Edward BARNES, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES. —5443
Decision Date18 June 1973
Docket NumberNo. 72

412 U.S. 837
93 S.Ct. 2357
37 L.Ed.2d 380
James Edward BARNES, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 72—5443.
Argued March 20, 1973.
Decided June 18, 1973.

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted of possessing United States Treasury checks stolen from the mails, knowing them to be stolen; forging; and uttering the checks, knowing the endorsements to be forged. The District Court instructed the jury that '(p)ossession of recently stolen property, if not satisfactorily explained, is ordinarily a circumstances from which you may reasonably draw the inference and find, in the light of the surrounding circumstances shown by the evidence in the case, that the person in possession knew the property had been stolen.' The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding no lack of 'rational connection' between unexplained possession of recently stolen property and knowledge that the property was stolen. Held: The instruction comports with due process. Pp. 841—847.

(a) If a statutory inference submitted to the jury as sufficient to support conviction satisfies the reasonable-doubt standard (i.e., the evidence necessary to invoke the inference is sufficient for a rational juror to find the inferred fact beyond a reasonable doubt) as well as the more-likely-than-not standard, then it clearly accords with due process. Pp. 841—843.

(b) Here, where the evidence established that petitioner possessed recently stolen Treasury checks payable to persons he did not know and it provided no plausible explanation for such possession consistent with innocence, the traditional common-law inference satisfies the reasonable-doubt standard, the most stringent standard applied by the Court in judging permissive criminal law inferences, and, therefore, comports with due process. Pp. 843—846.

(c) Although the introduction of any evidence, direct or circumstantial, tending to implicate the defendant in the alleged crime increases the pressure on him to testify, the mere massing of evidence against him cannot be regarded as a violation of his privilege against self-incrimination. Yee Hem v. United States, 268 U.S. 178, 185, 45 S.Ct. 470, 472, 69 L.Ed. 904. Pp. 846—847.

(d) In light of its legislative history and consistent judicial construction, 18 U.S.C. § 1708 requires only knowledge that the

Page 838

checks were stolen, and not knowledge that they were stolen from the mails. P. 847.

466 F.2d 1361, affirmed.

Malcolm H. Mackey, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

Daniel M. Friedman, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Barnes was convicted in United States District Court on two counts of possessing United States Treasury checks stolen from the mails, knowing them to be stolen, two counts of forging the checks, and two counts of uttering the checks, knowing the endorsements to be forged. The trial court instructed the jury that ordinarily it would be justified in inferring from unexplained possession of recently stolen mail that the defendant possessed the mail with knowledge that it was stolen. We granted certiorari to consider whether this instruction comports with due process. 409 U.S. 1037, 93 S.Ct. 544, 34 L.Ed.2d 486 (1972).

The evidence at petitioner's trial established that on June 2, 1971, he opened a checking account using the pseudonym 'Clarence Smith.' On July 1, and July 3, 1971, the United States Disbursing Office at San Francisco mailed four Government checks in the amounts of

Page 839

$269.02, $154.70, $184, and $268.80 to Nettie Lewis, Albert Young, Arthur Salazar, and Mary Hernandez, respectively. On July 8, 1971, petitioner deposited these four checks into the 'Smith' account. Each check bore the apparent endorsement of the payee and a second endorsement by 'Clarence Smith.'

At petitioner's trial the four payees testified that they had never received, endorsed, or authorized endorsement of the checks. A Government handwriting expert testified that petitioner had made the 'Clarence Smith' endorsement on all four checks and that he had signed the payees' names on the Lewis and Herandez checks.1 Although petitioner did not take the stand, a postal inspector testified to certain statements made by petitioner at a post-arrest interview. Petitioner explained to the inspector that he received the checks in question from people who sold furniture for him door to door and that the checks had been signed in the payees' names when he received them. Petitioner further stated that he could not name or identify any of the salespeople. Nor could he substantiate the existence of any furniture orders because the salespeople allegedly wrote their orders on scratch paper that had not been retained. Petitioner admitted that he executed the Clarence Smith endorsements and deposited the checks but denied making the payees' endorsements.2

The District Court instructed the jury that '(p)ossession of recently stolen property, if not satisfactorily explained, is ordinarily a circumstance from which you may reasonably draw the inference and find, in the light

Page 840

of the surrounding circumstances shown by the evidence in the case, that the person in possession knew the property had been stolen.'3

The jury brought in guilty verdicts on all six counts, and the District Court sentenced petitioner to concurrent three-year prison terms. The Court of Appeals for

Page 841

the Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding no lack of 'rational connection' between unexplained possession of recently stolen property and knowledge that the property was stolen. 466 F.2d 1361 (1972). Because petitioner received identical concurrent sentences on all six counts, the court declined to consider his challenges to conviction on the forgery and uttering counts. We affirm.

I

We begin our consideration of the challenged jury instruction with a review of four recent decisions which have considered the validity under the Due Process Clause of criminal law presumptions and inferences. Turner v. United States, 396 U.S. 398, 90 S.Ct. 642, 24 L.Ed.2d 610 (1970); Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 89 S.Ct. 1532, 23 L.Ed.2d 57 (1969); United States v. Romano, 382 U.S. 136, 86 S.Ct. 279, 15 L.Ed.2d 210 (1965); United States v. Gainey, 380 U.S. 63, 85 S.Ct. 754, 13 L.Ed.2d 658 (1965).

In United States v. Gainey, supra, the Court sustained the constitutionality of an instruction tracking a statute which authorized the jury to infer from defendant's unexplained presence at an illegal still that he was carrying on 'the business of a distiller or rectifier without having given bond as required by law.' Relying on the holding of Tot v. United States, 319 U.S. 463, 467, 63 S.Ct. 1241, 1245, 87 L.Ed. 1519 (1943), that there must be 'a rational connection between the fact proved and the ultimate fact presumed,' the Court upheld the inference on the basis of the comprehensive nature of the 'carrying on' offense and the common knowledge that illegal stills are secluded, secret operations. The following Term the Court determined, however, that presence at an illegal still could not support the inference that the defendant was in possession, custody, or control of the still, a narrower offense. 'Presence is relevant and admissible evidence in a trial on a possession charge; but absent some showing of the defendant's function at the still, its connection with possession is too tenuous to

Page 842

permit a reasonable inference of guilt—'the inference of the one from proof of the other is arbitrary . . ..' Tot v. United States, 319 U.S. 463, 467, 63 S.Ct. 1241, 1245, 87 L.Ed. 1519.' United States v. Romano, supra, at 141, 86 S.Ct. at 282.

Three and one-half years after Romano, the Court in Leary v. United States, supra, considered a challenge to a statutory inference that possession of marihuana, unless satisfactorily explained, was sufficient to prove that the defendant knew that the marihuana had been illegally imported into the United States. The Court concluded that in view of the significant possibility that any given marihuana was domestically grown and the improbability that a marihuana user would knew whether his marihuana was of domestic or imported origin, the inference did not meet the standards set by Tot, Gainey, and Romano. Referring to these three cases, the Leary Court stated that an inference is "irrational' or 'arbitrary,' and hence unconstitutional, unless it can at least be said with substantial assurance that the presumed fact is more likely than not to flow from the proved fact on which it is made to depend.' 395 U.S., at 36, 89 S.Ct., at 1548. In a footnote the Court stated that since the challenged inference failed to satisfy the more-likely-than-not standard, it did not have to 'reach the question whether a criminal presumption which passes muster when so judged must also satisfy the criminal 'reasonable doubt' standard if proof of the crime charged or an essential element thereof depends upon its use.' Id., at n. 64.

Finally, in Turner v. United States, supra, decided the year following Leary, the Court considered the constitutionality of instructing the jury that it may infer from possession of heroin and cocaine that the defendant knew these drugs had been illegally imported.4 The Court

Page 843

noted that Leary reserved the question of whether the more-likely-than-not or the reasonable doubt standard controlled in criminal cases, but it likewise found no need to resolve that question. It held that the inference with regard to heroin was valid judged by either standard. 396 U.S., at 416, 90 S.Ct., at 652. With regard to cocaine, the inference failed to satisfy even the more-likely-than-not standard. Id., at 419, 90 S.Ct., at 653.

The teaching of the foregoing cases is not altogether clear. To the extent that the 'rational connection,' 'more likely than not,' and 'reasonable doubt' standards bear ambiguous relationships to one another, the ambiguity is traceable in large...

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693 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Moore, No. 78-1594
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 2, 1980
    ...1623-1625, 32 L.Ed.2d 152, 157-160 (1972); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Cf. Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837, 841-846, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2360-2363, 37 L.Ed.2d 380, 384-387 (1973). 127 McKelvey v. United States, 260 U.S. 353, 365-367, 43 S.Ct. 132, 134......
  • U.S. v. Jeter, No. 84-5453
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • October 11, 1985
    ...of Section 641 to the facts of this case, we note that the "concurrent sentence" doctrine might be invoked. See Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837, 848, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2364, 39 L.Ed.2d 380 (1973); United States v. Boyce, 594 F.2d 1246, 1252 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 855, 100 S.C......
  • U.S. v. Flaherty, Nos. 80-1782
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • November 12, 1981
    ...explained by the circumstances or accounted for in some way consistent with innocence. (citation omitted). See United States v. Barnes, 412 U.S. 837, 843-46, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2361-63, 37 L.Ed.2d 380 (1976); United States v. Brawer, 482 F.2d 117, 124-27 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1......
  • People v. Mendoza, No. S008621.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 24, 2000
    ...has been variously described as "rational connection," "more likely than not," and "reasonable doubt." (Barnes v. United States (1973) 412 U.S. 837, 841-843, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2360-2361, 37 L.Ed.2d 380.) These seemingly disparate statements of the due process standard differ in language, not s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
693 cases
  • U.S. v. Moore, No. 78-1594
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 2, 1980
    ...1623-1625, 32 L.Ed.2d 152, 157-160 (1972); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Cf. Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837, 841-846, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2360-2363, 37 L.Ed.2d 380, 384-387 (1973). 127 McKelvey v. United States, 260 U.S. 353, 365-367, 43 S.Ct. 132, 134......
  • U.S. v. Jeter, No. 84-5453
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • October 11, 1985
    ...of Section 641 to the facts of this case, we note that the "concurrent sentence" doctrine might be invoked. See Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837, 848, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2364, 39 L.Ed.2d 380 (1973); United States v. Boyce, 594 F.2d 1246, 1252 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 855, 100 S.C......
  • U.S. v. Flaherty, Nos. 80-1782
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • November 12, 1981
    ...explained by the circumstances or accounted for in some way consistent with innocence. (citation omitted). See United States v. Barnes, 412 U.S. 837, 843-46, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2361-63, 37 L.Ed.2d 380 (1976); United States v. Brawer, 482 F.2d 117, 124-27 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1......
  • People v. Mendoza, No. S008621.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 24, 2000
    ...has been variously described as "rational connection," "more likely than not," and "reasonable doubt." (Barnes v. United States (1973) 412 U.S. 837, 841-843, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 2360-2361, 37 L.Ed.2d 380.) These seemingly disparate statements of the due process standard differ in language, not s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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