Leland v. State of Oregon

Decision Date09 June 1952
Docket NumberNo. 176,176
Citation96 L.Ed. 1302,343 U.S. 790,72 S.Ct. 1002
PartiesLELAND v. STATE OF OREGON
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 790-791 intentionally omitted] Mr. Thomas H. Ryan, Portland, Or., for appellant.

Messrs. J. Raymond Carskadon, Charles Eugene Raymond, Portland, Or., for appellee.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant was charged with murder in the first degree. He pleaded not guilty and gave notice of his intention to prove insanity. Upon trial in the Circuit Court of Multnomah County, Oregon, he was found guilty by a jury. In accordance with the jury's decision not to recommend life imprisonment, appellant received a sentence of death. The Supreme Court of Oregon affirmed. 190 Or. 598, 227 P.2d 785. The case is here on appeal. 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1257(2).

Oregon statutes required appellant to prove his insanity beyond a reasonable doubt and made 'a morbid propensity' no defense.1 The principal questions in this appeal are raised by appellant's contentions that these statutes deprive him of his life and liberty without due process of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The facts of the crime were revealed by appellant's confessions, as corroborated by other evidence. He killed a fifteen-year-old girl by striking her over the head several times with a steel bar and stabbing her twice with a hunting knife. Upon being arrested five days later for the theft of an automobile, he asked to talk with a homicide officer, voluntarily confessed the murder, and directed the police to the scene of the crime, whether he pointed out the location of the body. On the same day, he signeda full confession and, at his own request, made another in his own handwriting. After his indictment, counsel were appointed to represent him. They have done so with diligence in carrying his case through three courts.

One of the Oregon statutes in question provides:

'When the commission of the act charged as a crime is proven, and the defense sought to be established is the insanity of the defendant, the same must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt * * *.'2

Appellant urges that this statute in effect requires a defendant pleading insanity to establish his innocence by disproving beyond a reasonable doubt elements of the crime necessary to a verdict of guilty, and that the statute is therefore violative of that due process of law secured by the Fourteenth Amendment. To determine the merit of this challenge, the statute must be viewed in its relation to other relevant Oregon law and in its place in the trial of this case.

In conformity with the applicable state law,3 the trial judge instructed the jury that, although appellant was charged with murder in the first degree, they might determine that he had committed a lesser crime included in that charged. They were further instructed that his plea of not guilty put in issue every material and necessary element of the lesser degrees of homicide, as well as of the offense charged in the indictment. The jury could have returned any of five verdicts:4 (1) guilty of murder in the first degree, if they found beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant did the killing purposely and with deliberate and premeditated malice; (2) guilty of murder in the second degree, if they found beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant did the killing purposely and maliciously, but without deliberation and premeditation; (3) guilty of manslaughter, if they found beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant did the killing without malice or deliberation, but upon a sudden heat of passion caused by a provocation apparently sufficient to make the passion irresistible; (4) not guilty, if, after a careful considera- tion of all the evidence, there remained in their minds a reasonable doubt as to the existence of any of the necessary elements of each degree of homicide; and (5) not guilty by reason of insanity, if they found beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant was insane at the time of the offense charged. A finding of insanity would have freed appellant from responsibility for any of the possible offenses. The verdict which the jury determined guilty of first degree murder—required the agreement of all twelve jurors; a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity would have required the concurrence of only ten members of the panel.5

It is apparent that the jury might have found appellant to have been mentally incapable of the premeditation and deliberation required to support a first degree murder verdict or of the intent necessary to find him guilty of either first or second degree murder, and yet not have found him to have been legally insane. Although a plea of insanity was made, the prosecution was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the crime charged, including, in the case of first degree murder, premeditation, deliberation, malice and intent.6 The trial court repeatedly emphasized this requirement in its charge to the jury.7 Moreover, the judge directed the jury as follows:

'I instruct you that the evidence adduced during this trial to prove defendant's insanity shall be considered and weighed by you, with all other evidence whether or not you find defendant insane, in regard to the ability of the defendant to premeditate, form a purpose, to deliberate, act wilfully, and act maliciously; and if you find the defendant lacking in such ability, the defendant cannot have committed the crime of murder in the first degree.

'I instruct you that should you find the defendant's mental condition to be so affected or diseased to the end that the defendant could formulate no plan, design, or intent to kill in cool blood, the defendant has not committed the crime of murder in the first degree.'8

These and other instructions, and the charge as a whole, make it clear that the burden of proof of guilt, and of all the necessary elements of guilt, was placed squarely upon the State. As the jury was told, this burden did not shift, but rested upon the State throughout the trial, just as, according to the instructions, appellant was presumed to be innocent until the jury was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty.9 The jurors were to consider separately the issue of legal sanity per se—an issue set apart from the crime charged, to be introduced by a special plea and decided by a special verdict.10 On this issue appellant had the burden of proof under the statute in question here.

By this statute, originally enacted in 1864,11 Oregon adopted the prevailing doctrine of the time—that, since most men are sane, a defendant must prove his insanity to avoid responsibility for his acts. That was the rule announced in 1843 in the leading English decision in M'Naghten's Case:

'(T)he jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and * * * to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality f the act he was doing * * *.'12

This remains the English view today.13 In most of the nineteenth-century American cases, also, the defendant was required to 'clearly' prove insanity, 14 and that was probably the rule followed in most states in 1895,15 when Davis v. United States was decided. In that case this Court, speaking through Mr. Justice Harlan, announced the rule for federal prosecutions to be that an accused 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.'16 In reaching that conclusion, the Court observed:

'The views we have expressed are supported by many adjudications that are entitled to high respect. If such were not the fact, we might have felt obligated to accept the general doctrine announced in some of the above cases; for it is desirable that there be uniformity of rule in the administration of the criminal law in governments whose constitutions equally recognize the fundamental principles that are deemed essential for the protection of life and liberty.'17

The decision obviously establishes no constitutional doctrine, but only the rule to be followed in federal courts. As such, the rule is not in question here.

Today, Oregon is the only state that requires the accused, on a plea of insanity, to establish that defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Some twenty states, however, place the burden on the accused to establish his insanity by a preponderance of the evidence or some similar measure of persuasion.18 While there is an evident distinction between these two rules as to the quantum of proof required, we see no practical difference of such magnitude as to be significant in determining the constitutional question we face here. Oregon merely requires a heavier burden of proof. In each instance, in order to establish insanity as a complete defense to the charges preferred, the accused must prove that insanity. The fact that a practice is followed by a large number of states is not conclusive in a decision as to whether that practice accords with due process, but it is plainly worth considering in determining whether the practice 'offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.' Snyder v. Massachusetts, 1934, 291 U.S. 97, 105, 54 S.Ct. 330, 332, 78 L.Ed. 674.

Nor is this a case in which it is sought to enforce against the states a right which we have held to be secured to defendants in federal courts by the Bill of Rights. In Davis. v. United States, supra, we adopted a rule of procedure for the federal courts which...

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