Hankerson v. North Carolina, No. 75-6568

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE
PartiesJohnnie B. HANKERSON, Petitioner, v. State of NORTH CAROLINA
Decision Date17 June 1977
Docket NumberNo. 75-6568

432 U.S. 233
97 S.Ct. 2339
53 L.Ed.2d 306
Johnnie B. HANKERSON, Petitioner,

v.

State of NORTH CAROLINA.

No. 75-6568.
Argued Feb. 23, 1977.
Decided June 17, 1977.
Syllabus

Prior to the decision in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508, petitioner was convicted in a North Carolina court of second-degree murder over his claim that he acted in self-defense. The trial judge had instructed the jury that if the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that petitioner intentionally killed the victim with a deadly weapon the law raised presumptions that the killing was unlawful and that it was done with malice, and that in order to excuse his act petitioner had to prove to the jury's "satisfaction" that he acted in self-defense. The North Carolina Supreme Court, affirmed over petitioner's objection to such instructions, refusing to give retroactive application to Mullaney. Although holding that a burden to "satisfy" a jury of a fact is not "significantly less" than persuasion by a preponderance of the evidence and that therefore the charge was erroneous under Mullaney, which required the State to establish all elements of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt and which invalidated presumptions that shifted the burden of proving such elements to the defendant, the court concluded that the retroactive application of Mullaney would have a devastating impact on the administration of justice. Held:

1. The North Carolina Supreme Court erred in declining to hold the Mullaney rule retroactive. Ivan V. v. City of New York, 407 U.S. 203, 92 S.Ct. 1951, 32 L.Ed.2d 659. While in deciding whether a new constitutional rule is to be applied retroactively it is proper to consider the State's reliance on the old rule and the impact of the new rule on the administration of justice if the degree to which the new rule enhances the integrity of the factfinding process is sufficiently small, " 'where the major purpose of new constitutional doctrine is to overcome an aspect of the criminal trial that substantially impairs its truth-finding function and so raises serious questions about the accuracy of guilty verdicts in past trials, the new rule (is) given complete retroactive effect.' " Id., at 204, 92 S.Ct. at 1952 (emphasis supplied). The Mullaney rule falls within this latter category, since it was designed to diminish the probability that an innocent person would be convicted and thus to overcome an aspect of a criminal trial that "substantially impairs its truth-finding function." Pp. 240-244.

2. Nor can the North Carolina Supreme Court's judgment be affirmed on the ground that, even if Mullaney is applied retroactively, the trial

Page 234

court's instructions left the burden of disproving self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt on the prosecution, or at least did not require the accused to prove self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence, and thus did not violate the Mullaney rule. The North Carolina Supreme Court construed the instructions to the contrary, and since such interpretation is a matter of state law, there is no basis for disagreeing with it. Pp. 244-245.

288 N.C. 632, 220 S.E.2d 575, reversed.

Lawrence G. Diedrick, Rocky Mount, N.C., for the petitioner.

Charles M. Hensey, Raleigh, N. C., for the respondent.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether the North Carolina Supreme Court correctly declined to give retroactive application to this Court's decision in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed. 508 (1975).

I

Petitioner Hankerson was convicted after a jury trial of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20-25 years in prison. It was conceded at his trial that petitioner killed a man named Gregory Ashe by shooting him through the heart with a pistol at 11 at night on September 29, 1974. The issue at trial was whether petitioner acted in self-defense. The relevant evidence is described below.

Ashe and two friends, Dancy and Whitley, were, according to the testimony of the latter two, driving around in Ashe's

Page 235

car on the evening of September 29. They went to a pool hall shortly before 11 p. m. and, on discovering that the pool hall was closed, returned to Ashe's car. The car would not start. Ashe asked his companions for a light for his cigarette, but neither had one. Whitley began walking to his home, which was one block away. Ashe and Dancy followed him. Then Ashe decided to return to his car to try to "crank" it. Dancy, according to his and Whitley's testimony, ran after Whitley. Both testified that they then heard a gunshot, heard Ashe yell that he had been shot, and saw petitioner's car speed away. Ashe's body was not found for an hour, and when it was, a fully burned cigarette was lodged between two fingers.

Petitioner testified at trial that he had been driving his car very slowly because of holes in the road when someone asked him for a light. Through his mirror he saw two men. One, i. e., Ashe, walked up to the driver's window. Petitioner pushed his cigarette lighter in and gave it to Ashe. When the lighter was returned, petitioner felt the car shake and saw the other man at the other door, which was locked. Ashe then grabbed petitioner's shoulder with his right hand, and put a knife to petitioner's throat with his left hand. Petitioner then grabbed his gun and shot Ashe. The knife fell inside the car. Petitioner then drove away. Shortly after the murder, the knife was recovered by a policeman from petitioner's car. Petitioner readily admitted the shooting at that time and told a story to the policeman which was roughly equivalent to his trial testimony.

The State then introduced evidence tending to prove that Ashe had never been seen with a knife of the type found in petitioner's car; that petitioner falsely claimed to the policeman who questioned him shortly after the shooting no longer to have possession of the gun; that Ashe was right handed, even though petitioner testified that the knife was wielded with Ashe's left hand; and that although petitioner had told police that Ashe had left a grease mark on his shirt

Page 236

when Ashe grabbed him, Ashe had no grease on his hand when his body was examined. The State argued in its summation that Ashe would not still have had his cigarette in his hand when shot if he had, as petitioner testified, used two hands to attack petitioner.

(1, 2) The jury was instructed, in part, as follows:

"I charge that for you to find the defendant guilty of second degree murder, the State must prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt, first, that the defendant intentionally and without justification or excuse and with malice shot Gregory Ashe with a deadly weapon . . . ." 1 App. 9 (emphasis added).

The judge instructed the jury that self-defense constituted an excuse for an intentional killing.2 However, he instructed the jury:

"If the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt or it is admitted that the defendant intentionally killed Gregory Ashe with a deadly weapon, or intentionally inflicted a wound upon Gregory Ashe with a deadly weapon, that proximately caused his death, the law raises two presumptions; first, that the killing was unlawful, and second, that it was done with malice. . . . Then there will be some other things I will charge you about, but, nothing else appearing, if you are satisfied of those two things beyond a reasonable doubt then you would find the defendant guilty of second degree murder.

". . . (I)n order to excuse his act altogether on the grounds of self-defense, the defendant must prove not beyond a reasonable doubt but simply to your satisfaction

Page 237

that he acted in self-defense." Id., at 10 (emphasis added).3

The judge proceeded to instruct on the elements of self-defense.4 No objection was made to any of these instructions

Page 238

at the trial, and the jury found petitioner guilty of second-degree murder.

Petitioner objected to the above-quoted portions of the instructions to the jury for the first time on direct review in the Supreme Court of North Carolina. He argued that the instructions placed a burden on him to persuade the jury that he was not guilty, by proving that the killing was not unlawful; and he claimed that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth amendment as construed in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975), required that the State persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt as to all elements of the crime, including that of unlawfulness here the absence of self-defense.

The North Carolina Supreme Court agreed that unlawfulness was an essential ingredient of the crime, 288 N.C. 632, 648-652, 220 S.E.2d 575, 587-589 (1975), and ruled that under this Court's recently decided cases, the Due Process Clause required that the jury be instructed in a case such as this that the State must persuade it beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not in self-defense. Under the presumptions contained in the trial judge's instructions, once an intentional killing with a deadly weapon had been shown, petitioner had the burden to "satisfy" the jury that he had acted in self-defense. The North Carolina Supreme Court held that a burden to "satisfy" the jurors of a fact is not "significantly less" than a burden to persuade them of the fact by a preponderance of the evidence. The court therefore held that the charge was erroneous under this Court's decision in Mullaney v. Wilbur, supra, which required the

Page 239

State to establish all elements of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt and which, despite longstanding practice to the contrary as in North Carolina since 1864 invalidated presumptions that shifted the burden of proof with respect to such elements to the defendant. The North Carolina Supreme Court stated the rule for future cases:

"If there is evidence in the case of all the elements of self-defense, the mandatory...

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444 practice notes
  • Lufkins v. Leapley, No. 91-1697
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 24 Junio 1992
    ...parties. The fact that the issue was mentioned in argument does not bring the question properly before us." Hankerson v. North Carolina, 432 U.S. 233, 240 n. 6, Page 1486 97 S.Ct. 2339, 2344 n. 6, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1977) (quoting Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 206 n. 5, 74 S.Ct. 460, 464 n. 5,......
  • State v. Pinch, No. 43A81
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • 2 Junio 1982
    ...303 N.C. 439, 451, 279 S.E.2d 542, 550 (1981); State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 650, 220 S.E.2d 575, 588 (1975), rev'd on other grounds, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1976). See also Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979); State v. White, 300......
  • People v. Guerra, Cr. 22327
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 21 Noviembre 1984
    ...to be given complete retroactive effect." (407 U.S. at p. 205, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1952.) [690 P.2d 646] In Hankerson v. North Carolina (1977) 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306, the issue was the retroactivity of the rule of Mullaney v. Wilbur (1975) 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.E......
  • State v. Johnson, No. 63
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • 4 Septiembre 1979
    ...L.Ed.2d 368 (1970); State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 220 S.E.2d 575 (1975), Rev'd on other grounds sub nom., Hankerson v. North Carolina, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 29 Ohio placed the burden of proving mitigating circumstances by a preponderance of the evidence on the defe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
444 cases
  • Lufkins v. Leapley, No. 91-1697
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 24 Junio 1992
    ...parties. The fact that the issue was mentioned in argument does not bring the question properly before us." Hankerson v. North Carolina, 432 U.S. 233, 240 n. 6, Page 1486 97 S.Ct. 2339, 2344 n. 6, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1977) (quoting Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 206 n. 5, 74 S.Ct. 460, 464 n. 5,......
  • State v. Pinch, No. 43A81
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • 2 Junio 1982
    ...303 N.C. 439, 451, 279 S.E.2d 542, 550 (1981); State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 650, 220 S.E.2d 575, 588 (1975), rev'd on other grounds, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1976). See also Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979); State v. White, 300......
  • People v. Guerra, Cr. 22327
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 21 Noviembre 1984
    ...to be given complete retroactive effect." (407 U.S. at p. 205, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1952.) [690 P.2d 646] In Hankerson v. North Carolina (1977) 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306, the issue was the retroactivity of the rule of Mullaney v. Wilbur (1975) 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.E......
  • State v. Johnson, No. 63
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • 4 Septiembre 1979
    ...L.Ed.2d 368 (1970); State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 220 S.E.2d 575 (1975), Rev'd on other grounds sub nom., Hankerson v. North Carolina, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 29 Ohio placed the burden of proving mitigating circumstances by a preponderance of the evidence on the defe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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