In the Matter of Samuel Winship, Appellant, No. 778

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation90 S.Ct. 1068,25 L.Ed.2d 368,397 U.S. 358
Decision Date31 March 1970
Docket NumberNo. 778
PartiesIn the Matter of Samuel WINSHIP, Appellant

397 U.S. 358
90 S.Ct. 1068
25 L.Ed.2d 368
In the Matter of Samuel WINSHIP, Appellant.
No. 778.
Argued Jan. 20, 1970.
Decided March 31, 1970.

Rena K. Uviller, New York City, for appellant.

Stanley Buchsbaum, Brooklyn, N.Y., for appellee.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Constitutional questions decided by this Court concerning the juvenile process have centered on the adjudicatory stage at 'which a determination is made as to

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whether a juvenile is a 'delinquent' as a result of alleged misconduct on his part, with the consequence that he may be committed to a state institution.' In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 13, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 1436, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967). Gault decided that, although the Fourteenth Amendment does not require that the hearing at this stage conform with all the requirements of a criminal trial or even of the usual administrative proceeding, the Due Process Clause does require application during the adjudicatory hearing of "the essentials of due process and fair treatment." Id., at 30, 87 S.Ct. at 1445. This case presents the single, narrow question whether proof beyond a reasonable doubt is among the 'essentials of due process and fair treatment' required during the adjudicatory stage when a juvenile is charged with an act which would constitute a crime if committed by an adult.1

Section 712 of the New York Family Court Act defines a juvenile delinquent as 'a person over seven and less than sixteen years of age who does any act which, if done by an adult, would constitute a crime.' During a 1967 adjudicatory hearing, conducted pursuant to § 742 of the Act, a judge in New York Family Court

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found that appellant, then a 12-year-old boy, had entered a locker and stolen $112 from a woman's pocketbook. The petition which charged appellant with delinquency alleged that his act, 'if done by an adult, would constitute the crime or crimes of Larceny.' The judge acknowledged that the proof might not establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but rejected appellant's contention that such proof was required by the Fourteenth Amendment. The judge relied instead on § 744(b) of the New York Family Court Act which provides that '(a)ny determination at the conclusion of (an adjudicatory) hearing that a (juvenile) did an act or acts must be based on a preponderance of the evidence.'2 During a subsequent dispositional hearing, appellant was ordered placed in a training school for an initial period of 18 months, subject to annual extensions of his commitment until his 18th birthday—six years in appellant's case. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, affirmed without opinion, 30 A.D.2d 781, 291 N.Y.S.2d 1005 (1968). The New York Court of Appeals then affirmed by a four-to-three vote, expressly sustaining the constitutionality of § 744(b), 24 N.Y.2d 196, 299 N.Y.S.2d 414, 247 N.W.2d 253 (1969).3

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We noted probable jurisdiction 396 U.S. 885, 90 S.Ct. 179, 24 L.Ed.2d 160 (1969). We reverse.

I

The requirement that guilt of a criminal charge be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt dates at least from our early years as a Nation. The 'demand for a higher degree of persuasion in criminal cases was recurrently expressed from ancient times, (though) its crystallization into the formula 'beyond a reasonable doubt' seems to have occurred as late as 1798. It is now accepted in common law jurisdictions as the measure of persuasion by which the prosecution must convince the trier of all the essential elements of guilt.' C. McCormick, Evidence § 321, pp. 681—682 (1954); see also 9 J. Wigmore, Evidence, § 2497 (3d ed. 1940). Although virtually unanimous adherence to the reasonable-doubt standard in common-law jurisdictions may not conclusively establish it as a requirement of due process, such adherence does 'reflect a profound judgment about the

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way in which law should be enforced and justice administered.' Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 155, 88 S.Ct. 1444, 1451, 20 L.Ed.2d 491 (1968).

Expressions in many opinions of this Court indicate that it has long been assumed that proof of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt is constitutionally required. See, for example, Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304, 312, 26 L.Ed. 481 (1881); Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 488, 16 S.Ct. 353, 358, 40 L.Ed. 499 (1895); Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245, 253, 31 S.Ct. 2, 6, 54 L.Ed. 1021 (1910); Wilson v. United States, 232 U.S. 563, 569—570, 34 S.Ct. 347, 349, 350, 58 L.Ed. 728 (1914); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 174, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 1310, 93 L.Ed. 1879 (1949); Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 795, 72 S.Ct. 1002, 1005, 1006, 96 L.Ed. 1302 (1952); Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 138, 75 S.Ct. 127, 136, 137, 99 L.Ed. 150 (1954); Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 525—526, 78 S.Ct. 1332, 1342, 2 L.Ed.2d 1460 (1958). Cf. Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 15 S.Ct. 394, 39 L.Ed. 481 (1895). Mr. Justice Frankfurter stated that '(i)t the duty of the Government to establish * * * guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This notion—basic in our law and rightly one of the boasts of a free society—is a requirement and a safeguard of due process of law in the historic, procedural content of 'due process." Leland v. Oregon, supra, 343 U.S., at 802—803, 72 S.Ct., at 1009 (dissenting opinion). In a similar vein, the Court said in Brinegar v. United States, supra, 338 U.S., at 174, 69 S.Ct., at 1310, that '(g)uilt in a criminal case must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and by evidence confined to that which long experience in the common-law tradition, to some extent embodied in the Constitution, has crystallized into rules of evidence consistent with that standard. These rules are historically grounded rights of our system, developed to safeguard men from dubious and unjust convictions, with resulting forfeitures of life, liberty and property.' Davis v. United States, supra, 160 U.S., at 488, 16 S.Ct., at 358 stated that the requirement is implicit in 'constitutions * * * (which) recognize the fundamental principles that are deemed essential for the protection of life and liberty.' In Davis a murder conviction was

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reversed because the trial judge instructed the jury that it was their duty to convict when the evidence was equally balanced regarding the sanity of the accused. This Court said: 'On the contrary, he is entitled to an acquittal of the specific crime charged, if upon all the evidence, there is reasonable doubt whether he was capable in law of committing crime. * * * No man should be deprived of his life under the forms of law unless the jurors who try him are able, upon their consciences, to say that the evidence before them * * * is sufficient to show beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged.' Id., at 484, 493, 16 S.Ct., at 357, 360.

The reasonable-doubt standard plays a vital role in the American scheme of criminal procedure. It is a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error. The standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock 'axiomatic and elementary' principle whose 'enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.' Coffin v. United States, supra, 156 U.S., at 453, 15 S.Ct., at 403. As the dissenters in the New York Court of Appeals observed, and we agree, 'a person accused of a crime * * * would be at a severe disadvantage, a disadvantage amounting to a lack of fundamental fairness, if he could be adjudged guilty and imprisoned for years on the strength of the same evidence as would suffice in a civil case.' 24 N.Y.2d, at 205, 299 N.Y.S.2d, at 422, 247 N.E.2d, at 259.

The requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has this vital role in our criminal procedure for cogent reasons. The accused during a criminal prosecution has at stake interest of immense importance, both because of the possibility that he may lose his liberty upon conviction and because of the certainty that he would be stigmatized by the conviction. Accordingly, a society

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that values the good name and freedom of every individual should not condemn a man for commission of a crime when there is reasonable doubt about his guilt. As we said in Speiser v. Randall, supra, 357 U.S., at 525—526, 78 S.Ct., at 1342: 'There is always in litigation a margin of error, representing error in factfinding, which both parties must take into account. Where one party has at stake an interest of transcending value—as a criminal defendant his liberty—this margin of error is reduced as to him by the process of placing on the other party the burden of * * * persuading the factfinder at the conclusion of the trial of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Due process commands that no man shall lose his liberty unless the Government has borne the burden of * * * convincing the factfinder of his guilt.' To this end, the reasonable-doubt standard is indispensable, for it 'impresses on the trier of fact the necessity of reaching a subjective state of certitude of the facts in issue.' Dorsen & Rezneck, In Re Gault and the Future of Juvenile Law, 1 Family Law Quarterly, No. 4, pp. 1, 26 (1967).

Moreover, use of the reasonable-doubt standard is indispensable to command the respect and confidence of the community in applications of the criminal law. It is critical that the moral force of the criminal law not be diluted by a standard of proof that leaves people in doubt whether innocent men are being condemned. It is also important in our free society that every individual going about his ordinary affairs have confidence that his government cannot adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper factfinder of his guilt with utmost certainty.

Lest there remain any doubt about the constitutional stature of the reasonable-doubt...

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11389 practice notes
  • Ahmad v. Wigen, No. 89-CV-715.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • September 26, 1989
    ...1388, 1395, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982); Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 423-25, 99 S.Ct. 1804, 1807-09, 60 L.Ed.2d 323 (1979); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 371, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1076, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring). Deference to the State Department might justify a higher standar......
  • U.S. v. Mayo, Nos. 631
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 8, 1983
    ...government's traditional burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt every fact necessary to constitute the offense. Long before Winship [397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970) ], the universal rule in this country was that the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable do......
  • Hays v. Farwell, No. 3:04-cv-0011-RLH-VPC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
    • March 22, 2007
    ...as the jury reaches a verdict finding guilt. Estellee v. Williams 425 U. S. 501, 503, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Removing or minimizing that presumption in the eyes of the jury is improper and highly prejudicial, ......
  • United States v. Atlantic Richfield Co., Civ. A. No. 75-3096
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • March 29, 1977
    ...them a criminal jury trial15 and that in such a trial the government must prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Cf. In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). The starting point of their argument is Mendoza-Martinez. We have previously concluded that the penal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11376 cases
  • Ahmad v. Wigen, No. 89-CV-715.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • September 26, 1989
    ...1388, 1395, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982); Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 423-25, 99 S.Ct. 1804, 1807-09, 60 L.Ed.2d 323 (1979); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 371, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1076, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring). Deference to the State Department might justify a higher standar......
  • U.S. v. Mayo, Nos. 631
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 8, 1983
    ...government's traditional burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt every fact necessary to constitute the offense. Long before Winship [397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970) ], the universal rule in this country was that the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable do......
  • Hays v. Farwell, No. 3:04-cv-0011-RLH-VPC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
    • March 22, 2007
    ...as the jury reaches a verdict finding guilt. Estellee v. Williams 425 U. S. 501, 503, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). Removing or minimizing that presumption in the eyes of the jury is improper and highly prejudicial, ......
  • United States v. Atlantic Richfield Co., Civ. A. No. 75-3096
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • March 29, 1977
    ...them a criminal jury trial15 and that in such a trial the government must prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Cf. In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). The starting point of their argument is Mendoza-Martinez. We have previously concluded that the penal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 books & journal articles
  • THE REASONABLENESS OF THE 'REASONABLENESS' STANDARD OF HABEAS CORPUS REVIEW UNDER THE ANTITERRORISM AND EFFECTIVE DEATH PENALTY ACT OF 1996.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 72 Nbr. 3, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...to provide discovery materials to the prosecution but not imposing a corresponding responsibility on the prosecution); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970) (requiring the government to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt); Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 315-16 (1979) ......
  • THE BURDENS OF THE EXCESSIVE FINES CLAUSE.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 63 Nbr. 2, November 2021
    • November 1, 2021
    ...See, e.g., FLA. STAT. [section] 985.437(2)-(3). (22.) 524 U.S. 321, 336-37 (1998). (23.) See, e.g., id. at 337. (24.) In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970); see also Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 303-04 (2004) (holding that at sentencing a judge may rely only on facts established b......
  • OVERBROAD INJUNCTIONS AGAINST SPEECH (ESPECIALLY IN LIBEL AND HARASSMENT CASES).
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 45 Nbr. 1, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...99 N.E.3d 835, 842 & n.10 (Mass. App. Ct. 2018). (227.) Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654, 667, 674 (2002). (228.) In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (229.) Lewis v. United States, 518 U.S. 322 (1996). (230.) John D. Bessler, The Public Interest and the Unconstitutionality of Private Prosecutor......
  • Pornography and Politics: the Court, the Constitution, and the Commission
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 24-4, December 1971
    • December 1, 1971
    ...(1967).43 See note 42 supra. But see In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967); Tinker v. Des Moines SchoolDist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 648exposure basically impaired ethical or moral development, but, in a gratuitous dis-play of judicial restraint, he continued that it was ......
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