Connecticut v. Johnson, No. 81-927

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice BLACKMUN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Justice BRENNAN
Citation460 U.S. 73,103 S.Ct. 969,74 L.Ed.2d 823
PartiesCONNECTICUT, Petitioner v. Lindsay B. JOHNSON
Decision Date23 February 1983
Docket NumberNo. 81-927

460 U.S. 73
103 S.Ct. 969
74 L.Ed.2d 823
CONNECTICUT, Petitioner

v.

Lindsay B. JOHNSON.

No. 81-927.
Argued Oct. 13, 1982.
Decided Feb. 23, 1983.
Syllabus

Upon a jury trial in a Connecticut state court, respondent was convicted of all the charges under a multicount information, including charges of attempted murder and robbery. The trial court's general instructions to the jury included an instruction that "a person's intention may be inferred from his conduct and every person is conclusively presumed to intend the natural and necessary consequences of his act." In specific instructions on the elements of each crime, the charge as to attempted murder again referred to a conclusive presumption of intent, but the instructions on robbery did not contain any further discussion of intent. While respondent's appeal was pending, this Court decided Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39, which held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated by a jury instruction that "the law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts," because a reasonable juror might have viewed it as creating a conclusive presumption of intent or as shifting the burden of proof as to intent. Sandstrom left open the question whether, if a jury is so instructed, the error can ever be harmless. Thereafter, the Connecticut Supreme Court, while affirming respondent's convictions on other counts in the information, reversed his convictions for attempted murder and robbery. Without discussing the State's argument that the Sandstrom violation was harmless, the court concluded that the unconstitutional "conclusive presumption" language in the general instructions was not cured by the specific instructions on attempted murder and robbery.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

185 Conn. ----, 440 A.2d 858, affirmed.

Page 74

Linda K. Lager, New Haven, Conn., for petitioner.

Jerrold H. Barnett, Public Defender, New Haven, Conn., for respondent.

Justice BLACKMUN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Justice BRENNAN, Justice WHITE, and Justice MARSHALL joined.

In Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979), this Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated by a jury instruction that "the law pre-

Page 75

sumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts." Id., at 512, 99 S.Ct., at 2453. We expressly left open in that case the question whether, if a jury is so instructed, the error can ever be harmless. Id., at 526-527, 99 S.Ct., at 2460-2461. Since Sandstrom, courts have taken different approaches to the harmless error problem.1 We therefore granted certiorari in this litigation to resolve the conflict. 455 U.S. 937, 102 S.Ct. 1426, 71 L.Ed.2d 647 (1982).

I
A.

Respondent Lindsay B. Johnson was accused in a four-count information of attempted murder, kidnaping in the second degree, robbery in the first degree, and sexual assault in the first degree. His jury trial in Connecticut Superior Court concluded with a verdict of guilty on all counts.

The evidence at trial revealed the following sequence of events: At approximately 11:00 p.m. on December 20, 1975, respondent and three male companions were in an automobile

Page 76

in Norwalk, Conn. A young woman who had lost her way stopped her car and asked them for directions. Respondent offered to ride with her to show her the way. She agreed, and the two drove off. Respondent's companions followed in the other car.

When the woman reached a location familiar to her, she stopped and waited for respondent to get out of the car. Instead, respondent pulled her over to the passenger side of the car, and one of his companions entered on the other side and started to drive. The woman was told that the men needed a car. Shortly thereafter the second car was abandoned, and its two occupants got into the woman's car. The four men verbally abused her, threatened her with bodily harm, displayed a knife, and told her that the driver had a gun. The group stopped again in Norwalk to pick up a fifth man. During still another stop, one of the men placed a fully loaded, semi-automatic rifle in the trunk. When the woman asked the group to take the car and leave her alone, they replied that she would be given money and left near her home at the end of the evening.

The men then drove the car eastward on the Connecticut Turnpike to New Haven. Respondent, who is black, remarked that he had "never had a white woman before." Tr. 50, 262. The group arrived in New Haven in the early morning and stopped for gas. Respondent then directed the driver to a large apartment complex, where he pulled the woman from the car and into a lavatory on the first floor of the building. There, all five men sexually assaulted her.

When the woman was returned to the car, respondent bound her hands with telephone cord. Respondent told her that she would be left with a dime near a telephone booth so she could call home while they made their getaway. After directing the driver to a bridge, respondent pulled the woman out of the car and forced her to run with him to the middle of the bridge. They struggled and respondent threw her over the railing. She landed on a large pipe but jumped

Page 77

into the river when she saw respondent pursuing her. She then eluded respondent by hiding under the bridge; she was able to untie her hands. She remained hidden for a while because she heard voices shouting, but eventually she sought refuge from the cold.2 Shortly after 4:00 a.m., the residents of a nearby house admitted her when they heard her moaning, "please let me in . . . they were trying to kill me." Id., at 390.

Relying on information provided by the woman, police arrested respondent and the other four men in Norwalk a few hours later. Two days thereafter, the victim identified all five from an array of 15 photographs. She also identified respondent in court,3 describing him as the most vicious and violent of her assailants.

The defense theory, as indicated by the cross-examination of the State's witnesses,4 apparently was that the woman had consented to travel with the group and to have sex with them, and that respondent did not plan to keep the woman's car or to kill her. For example, respondent's attorney asked the woman whether any mention had been made of going to a motel or having sex, whether she had consented to the sexual acts, and whether any of the men had said that the car would be returned in the morning with a full tank of gas. When the

Page 78

woman stated that she was behind the wheel after the car became stuck in a snowbank on the turnpike, counsel asked how many of the men had got out of the car to push it or, indeed, whether all of them had done so. Cross-examination also revealed that when the woman went to the hospital on December 21, she told the examining physician that she had had sexual relations with her boyfriend the previous morning. According to the doctor, this might have accounted for sperm observed in gynecological tests. Finally, police descriptions of the bridge were arguably contrary to the victim's description of the area as "secluded."

B

The trial court's charge to the jury began with general instructions on applicable principles of law. The jury was told to accept the court's pronouncements of the law but to be the sole judge of the facts. The court explained the presumption of innocence and the State's burden of proving the existence of every element of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The court then described intent as

"a question of fact that is solely within your province as jurors. However, you should be aware of a rule of law that will be helpful to you and that is that a person's intention may be inferred from his conduct and every person is conclusively presumed to intend the natural and necessary consequences of his act." App. 22-23.

The court then gave specific instructions on the elements of each crime. With respect to attempted murder, the court again spoke of a conclusive presumption.5 The charge on

Page 79

kidnaping in the second degree, on the other hand, referred to intent as "very largely a matter of inference." 6 The instructions on robbery in the first degree and sexual assault in the first degree did not contain any further discussion of intent. The charge concluded with a reminder as to the State's burden of proof and the jury's duty to base its verdict on the evidence presented and on the law given by the court.

C

Respondent filed a timely appeal in December 1976, but because of problems with the reporter in obtaining a complete transcript the appeal was not briefed and argued until February 1981. In the interim, this Court decided Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979). Respondent argued on appeal that the "conclusively presumed" language in the jury instructions on intent rendered the instructions unconstitutional under Sandstrom.7 The State argued that the error, if any, was harmless.

The Supreme Court of Connecticut affirmed respondent's convictions for kidnaping and sexual assault, but reversed

Page 80

the convictions for attempted murder and robbery on the basis of the instructions regarding intent.8 185 Conn. ----, 440 A.2d 858 (1981). In accordance with Sandstrom, the court analyzed the charge as a whole to determine how the jury might have interpreted it; the court balanced other portions of the charge against the challenged language essentially to determine whether "the ailing instruction by itself so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violates due process." Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 147, 94 S.Ct. 396, 400, 38 L.Ed.2d 368 (1973). The court first found that the general instructions were infirm, because the inferential language in that portion of the charge was...

To continue reading

Request your trial
440 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
    ...element from the jury, a court might properly conclude that no error occurred from the failure to instruct. See Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S. 73, 87, 103 S.Ct. 969, 977-78, 74 L.Ed.2d 823 (1983) (plurality opinion) (failure to properly instruct jury on an element of an offense may be har......
  • Osborne v. Ohio, No. 88-5986
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 18, 1990
    ...concurring in judgment); Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 580, n. 8, 106 S.Ct. 3101, 3107 n. 8, 92 L.Ed.2d 460 (1986); Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S. 73, 85-86, 103 S.Ct. 969, 976-977, 74 L.Ed.2d 823 (1983) (plurality opinion); Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 320, n. 14, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 279......
  • State v. Allen, No. 485PA04.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 1, 2005
    ...part. The issue of whether Blakely errors are subject to harmless-error analysis is governed by federal law. See Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S. 73, 81 n. 9, 103 S.Ct. 969, 974 n. 9, 74 L.Ed.2d 823, 830 n. 9 (1983) (stating that "whether a federal constitutional error can be harmless is a ......
  • People v. Barker
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 25, 1986
    ...then set forth four exceptions to the rule of reversal per se. The first two exceptions were derived from Connecticut v. Johnson (1983) 460 U.S. 73, 87, 103 S.Ct. 969, 977, 74 L.Ed.2d 823: " 'if the erroneous instruction was given in connection with an offense for which the defendant was ac......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
440 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
    ...element from the jury, a court might properly conclude that no error occurred from the failure to instruct. See Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S. 73, 87, 103 S.Ct. 969, 977-78, 74 L.Ed.2d 823 (1983) (plurality opinion) (failure to properly instruct jury on an element of an offense may be har......
  • Osborne v. Ohio, No. 88-5986
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 18, 1990
    ...concurring in judgment); Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 580, n. 8, 106 S.Ct. 3101, 3107 n. 8, 92 L.Ed.2d 460 (1986); Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S. 73, 85-86, 103 S.Ct. 969, 976-977, 74 L.Ed.2d 823 (1983) (plurality opinion); Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 320, n. 14, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 279......
  • State v. Allen, No. 485PA04.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 1, 2005
    ...part. The issue of whether Blakely errors are subject to harmless-error analysis is governed by federal law. See Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S. 73, 81 n. 9, 103 S.Ct. 969, 974 n. 9, 74 L.Ed.2d 823, 830 n. 9 (1983) (stating that "whether a federal constitutional error can be harmless is a ......
  • People v. Barker
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 25, 1986
    ...then set forth four exceptions to the rule of reversal per se. The first two exceptions were derived from Connecticut v. Johnson (1983) 460 U.S. 73, 87, 103 S.Ct. 969, 977, 74 L.Ed.2d 823: " 'if the erroneous instruction was given in connection with an offense for which the defendant was ac......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT