Carella v. California, No. 87-6997

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM; Justice SCALIA, with whom Justice BRENNAN
Citation105 L.Ed.2d 218,109 S.Ct. 2419,491 U.S. 263
PartiesEugene John CARELLA, Appellant, v. CALIFORNIA
Decision Date15 June 1989
Docket NumberNo. 87-6997

491 U.S. 263
109 S.Ct. 2419
105 L.Ed.2d 218
Eugene John CARELLA, Appellant,

v.

CALIFORNIA.

No. 87-6997.
June 15, 1989.
Rehearing Denied Aug. 30, 1989.
See 492 U.S. 937, 110 S.Ct. 23.

PER CURIAM.

On March 24, 1986, after a jury trial in the Municipal ourt of Beverly Hills Judicial District, California, appellant Eu-

Page 264

gene Carella was convicted of grand theft for failure to return a rented car.1 At his trial, the court adopted the prosecution's requested instructions applying the statutory presumptions in Cal. Veh. Code Ann. § 10855 (West 1987)2 and Cal. Penal Code Ann. § 484(b) (West 1988).3 Specifically, over Carella's objection, the court charged the jury as follows:

(1) "Presumption Respecting Theft by Fraud:

"Intent to commit theft by fraud is presumed if one who has leased or rented the personal property of another pursuant to a written contract fails to return the personal property to its owner within 20 days after the owner has made written demand by certified or registered mail following the expiration of the lease or rental agreement for return of the property so leased or rented."

(2) "Presumption Respecting Embezzlement of a Leased or Rented Vehicle:

"Whenever any person who has leased or rented a vehicle wilfully and intentionally fails to return the vehicle to its owner within five days after the lease or rental agreement has expired, that person shall be presumed to have embezzled the vehicle." App. 15.

Page 265

On appeal to the Appellate Department of the Superior Court, the prosecution confessed error, acknowledging that these two instructions unconstitutionally imposed conclusive presumptions as to core elements of Carella's crime. The Appellate Department disagreed, however, and validated the presumptions on the ground that Carella "never offered testimony concerning the nonexistence of the presumed facts. . . ." Id., at 61. This disposition was so plainly at odds with prior decisions of this Court that we noted probable jurisdiction, 488 U.S. 964, 109 S.Ct. 488, 102 L.Ed.2d 525 (1988), and now reverse.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment denies States the power to deprive the accused of liberty unless the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the charged offense. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Jury instructions relieving States of this burden violate a defendant's due process rights. See Francis v. Franklin, 471 U.S. 307, 105 S.Ct. 1965, 85 L.Ed.2d 344 (1985); Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979). Such directions subvert the presumption of innocence accorded to accused persons and also invade the truth-finding task assigned solely to juries in criminal cases.

We explained in Francis and Sandstrom that courts should ask whether the presumption in question is mandatory, that is, whether the specific instruction, both alone and in the context of the overall charge, could have been understood by reasonable jurors to require them to find the presumed fact if the State proves certain predicate facts. See Sandstrom, supra, at 514, 99 S.Ct., at 2454. The prosecution understandably does not now dispute that the instructions in this case were phrased as commands, for those instructions were explicit and unqualified to that effect and were not explained elsewhere in the jury charge to be merely permissive. Carella's jury was told first that a person "shall be presumed to have embezzled" a vehicle if it is not returned within 5 days of the expiration of the rental agreement; and second, that "intent to commit theft by fraud is presumed" from failure to return rented property within 20 days of demand.

Page 266

These mandatory directions directly foreclosed independent jury consideration of whether the facts proved established certain elements of the offenses with which Carella was charged. The instructions also relieved the State of its burden of proof articulated in Winship, namely, proving by evidence every essential element of Carella's crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The two instructions violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

The State insists that the error was in any event harmless. As we have in similar cases, we do not decide that issue here. In Sandstrom v. Montana, supra, at 515, 99 S.Ct., at 2454, the jury in a murder case was instructed that the "law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts." We held that, because the jury might have understood the presumption to be conclusive or as shifting the burden of persuasion, the instruction was constitutional error. There was a claim of harmless error, however, and even though the jury might have considered the presumption to be conclusive, we remanded for the state court to consider the issue if it so chose.

In Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 106 S.Ct. 3101, 92 L.Ed.2d 460 (1986), we again said that a Sandstrom error is subject to the harmless-error rule. "Nor is Sandstrom error equivalent to a directed verdict for the State. When a jury is instructed to presume malice from predicate facts, it still must find the existence of those facts beyond a reasonable doubt. Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S. 73, 96-97 [103 S.Ct. 969, 982-983, 74 L.Ed.2d 823] (1983) (POWELL, J., dissenting). In many cases, the predicate facts conclusively establish intent, so that no rational jury could find that the defendant committed the relevant criminal act but did not intend to cause injury. . . . In that event the erroneous instruction is simply superfluous: the jury has found, in Winship's words, 'every fact necessary' to establish every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt." Rose, supra, 478 U.S., at 580-581, 106 S.Ct., at 3107-3108 (footnote and citations omitted). We also observed that although we have the authority to make the harmless-error determination

Page 267

ourselves, we do not ordinarily do so. Hence, we remanded the case for the lower court to make that determination in the first instance.

We follow the same course here and reverse the judgment of the California court without deciding here whether no rational jury could find the predicate acts but fail to find the fact presumed. 478 U.S., at 580-581, 106 S.Ct., at 3107-3108. Accordingly, the judgment of the Appellate Department is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Justice SCALIA, with whom Justice BRENNAN, Justice MARSHALL, and Justice BLACKMUN join, concurring in the judgment.

I agree with the Court that the decision below must be reversed, and that it is sensible to permit the state court to conduct harmless-error analysis in the first instance. I write separately, however, because the Court has only implicitly acknowledged (by quoting the passage that it does from Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 580-581, 106 S.Ct. 3101, 3107-3108, 92 L.Ed.2d 460 (1986), see ante, at 266) what should be made explicit that the harmless-error analysis applicable in assessing a mandatory conclusive presumption is wholly unlike the typical form of such analysis. In the usual case the harmlessness determination requires consideration of "the trial record as a whole," United States v. Hasting, 461 U.S. 499, 509, 103 S.Ct. 1974, 1980, 76 L.Ed.2d 96 (1983), in order to decide whether the fact supported by improperly admitted evidence was in any event overwhelmingly established by other evidence, see, e.g., Milton v. Wainwright, 407 U.S. 371, 372-373, 92 S.Ct. 2174, 2175-2176, 33 L.Ed.2d 1 (1972); Harrington v. California, 395 U.S. 250, 254, 89 S.Ct. 1726, 1728, 23 L.Ed.2d 284 (1969). Such an expansive inquiry would be error here, and I think it important both to explain why and to describe the mode of analysis that is appropriate. The Court's mere citation of Rose is inadequate to those ends, since, for reasons I shall describe, infra, at 271-272, that case itself is ambiguous.

Page 268

The Court has disapproved the use of mandatory conclusive presumptions not merely because it " 'conflict[s] with the overriding presumption of innocence with which the law endows the accused,' " Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S....

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583 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Wiles, Nos. 94-1592
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 10, 1996
    ...U.S. 391, 402, 111 S.Ct. 1884, 1892, 114 L.Ed.2d 432 (1991) (unconstitutional burden-shifting jury instruction); Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 266, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 2421, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (jury instruction containing erroneous mandatory presumption on element of intent); Pope v.......
  • U.S. v. Aramony, Nos. 95-5532
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 17, 1996
    ...facts, but " 'no rational jury could find the predicate acts but fail to find the fact presumed,' " id. (quoting Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 267, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 2421-22, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (per curiam )), then the error is harmless. Another example is when the reviewing court ......
  • Osborne v. Ohio, No. 88-5986
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 18, 1990
    ...397 U.S. 358, 363, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970)), and is cognizable on appeal as plain error. Cf. Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment); Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 580, n. 8, 106 S.Ct. 3101, 3107 n. 8......
  • United States v. Garcia, No. 14-11845
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • October 19, 2018
    ...of evidence at the sentencing stage of a capital case in violation of the Sixth Amendment Counsel Clause); Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 266, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (jury instruction containing an erroneous conclusive presumption); Pope v. Illinois, 481 U.S. 497, 501-......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
579 cases
  • U.S. v. Wiles, Nos. 94-1592
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 10, 1996
    ...U.S. 391, 402, 111 S.Ct. 1884, 1892, 114 L.Ed.2d 432 (1991) (unconstitutional burden-shifting jury instruction); Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 266, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 2421, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (jury instruction containing erroneous mandatory presumption on element of intent); Pope v.......
  • U.S. v. Aramony, Nos. 95-5532
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 17, 1996
    ...facts, but " 'no rational jury could find the predicate acts but fail to find the fact presumed,' " id. (quoting Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 267, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 2421-22, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (per curiam )), then the error is harmless. Another example is when the reviewing court ......
  • Osborne v. Ohio, No. 88-5986
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 18, 1990
    ...397 U.S. 358, 363, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970)), and is cognizable on appeal as plain error. Cf. Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment); Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 580, n. 8, 106 S.Ct. 3101, 3107 n. 8......
  • United States v. Garcia, No. 14-11845
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • October 19, 2018
    ...of evidence at the sentencing stage of a capital case in violation of the Sixth Amendment Counsel Clause); Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263, 266, 109 S.Ct. 2419, 105 L.Ed.2d 218 (1989) (jury instruction containing an erroneous conclusive presumption); Pope v. Illinois, 481 U.S. 497, 501-......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The End of Criminal Antitrust's per Se Conclusive Presumptions
    • United States
    • Antitrust Bulletin Nbr. 58-4, December 2013
    • December 1, 2013
    ...‘invade [the] factfinding function’ which, in a criminal case, the law assigns solely to the jury.”). See also Carella v. California, 491 U.S. 263 (1989) (due process under the 14th Id. at 273–75. 7 438 U.S. 422 (1978). E N D O F P E R S E P R E S U M P T I O N S : 669 knowledge of the prob......

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