Rose v. Clark

Decision Date02 July 1986
Docket NumberNo. 84-1974,84-1974
Citation478 U.S. 570,106 S.Ct. 3101,92 L.Ed.2d 460
PartiesJimmy C. ROSE, Warden, Petitioner v. Stanley Barham CLARK
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent was charged with the murder of two persons arising from the same incident. At his trial in a Tennessee state court he defended on the ground, inter alia, that he was either insane or incapable of forming the requisite intent to kill the victims. The court instructed the jury on both first-degree murder, which requires proof of premeditation and deliberation under Tennessee law, and second-degree murder, which requires proof of malice but not of planning and premeditation. The court then instructed the jury that "[a]ll homicides are presumed to be malicious in the absence of evidence which would rebut the implied presumption" and that "if the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a killing has occurred, then it is presumed that the killing was done maliciously." The jury found respondent guilty of first-degree murder of one victim and of second-degree murder of the other. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting respondent's argument that the malice instruction impermissibly shifted the burden of proof as to malice. Respondent then sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, which held that the malice instruction was unconstitutional under Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39, wherein it was held that a jury instruction creating a presumption of malice that has the effect of either eliminating intent as an issue, or of shifting the burden of proof as to intent to the defendant, violates due process. The District Court then went on to find that the error could not be deemed harmless because respondent had "relied upon a mens rea defense." The United States Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. The harmless-error standard of Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705, under which a reviewing court should not set aside an otherwise valid conviction if the court may confidently say, on the whole record, that the constitutional error in question was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, applies to the erroneous malice instruction in this case. Respondent had an opportunity to present evidence and argue in support of his innocence, he was tried by an impartial jury, supervised by an impartial judge, and, aside from the malice instruction, the jury was clearly instructed that it had to find respondent guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to every element of both first- and second-degree murder. In this context, the erroneous malice instruction does not compare with the kinds of errors that automatically require reversal of an otherwise valid conviction. The error in the instruction of impermissibly shifting the burden of proof on malice was not "so basic to a fair trial" that it could never be harmless. The purpose behind the Sandstrom rule of ensuring that only the guilty are punished supports this conclusion. Nor is a Sandstrom error equivalent to a directed verdict for the State, since when a jury is instructed to presume malice from predicate facts, it still must find the existence of those facts beyond a reasonable doubt. Pp. 3105-3108.

2. Although this Court has authority to decide whether, on the facts of a particular case, a constitutional error was harmless under the Chapman standard, it does so sparingly. Accordingly, since the United States Court of Appeals has not yet applied Chapman to the facts of this case, the case is remanded to that court to determine whether the error in question was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Pp. 3109.

762 F.2d 1006, vacated and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. ---. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. ---. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. ---.

W.J. Michael Cody, Nashville, Tenn., for petitioner.

Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Washington, D.C., for U.S., as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Scott Daniel, Murfreesboro, Tenn., for respondent.

Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the harmless-error standard of Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967), applies to jury instructions that violate the principles of Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979), and Francis v. Franklin, 471 U.S. 307, 105 S.Ct. 1965, 85 L.Ed.2d 344 (1985).1

I

On December 30, 1978, Charles Browning and Joy Faulk were shot to death while they sat in Browning's pickup truck in a remote area of Rutherford County, Tennessee. Respondent Stanley Clark, Faulk's former boyfriend, was charged with the murders.

The evidence introduced at trial showed that Browning, Faulk, and Faulk's two young children (aged 6 and 3) had been driving in Rutherford County on the night of the murders. According to the older child, another vehicle followed Browning's truck for about an hour. Browning pulled his truck into a private driveway, apparently to let the other ve- hicle pass. The driver of the second vehicle then pulled in behind Browning, thereby blocking any exit. The driver left his vehicle, walked up to the cab of Browning's truck, and fired four shots at point-blank range. One shot struck Browning in the head, two others struck Faulk in the head, and the fourth struck Faulk in the left shoulder. The killer left the scene in his vehicle. Both Browning and Faulk died.

Faulk's children, who had not been shot, went for help, telling a local resident that "Clicker" (the nickname by which the children knew respondent) had shot Browning and their mother. Earlier that night, police had seen respondent following Browning's truck. Police soon located respondent, but apprehended him only after a high-speed chase. Police found the murder weapon, a .25-caliber pistol that respondent had borrowed from a friend, near respondent's home. At trial, the State relied on the foregoing evidence and on evidence showing that respondent and Joy Faulk had a stormy love affair that Faulk ended in the fall of 1978. Several times after their breakup, respondent threatened to kill Faulk if he ever found her with another man.

Respondent offered two lines of defense. First, he contended that Sam Faulk, Joy's ex-husband, killed the victims because of a dispute concerning custody of the two Faulk children. The State rebutted this contention by introducing evidence that no such dispute existed, and that Sam Faulk was elsewhere when the murders were committed. Second, respondent argued that he was either insane or incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent. To support this argument, respondent introduced evidence that he was suffering from amnesia and could not remember the events of the night of the murders. In addition, some testimony suggested that respondent had been drinking heavily the entire day before the murders. Finally, two defense psychiatrists testified that respondent was legally insane at the time the murders were committed because his depression concerning his recent breakup with Joy Faulk made it impossible for him to conform his conduct to the law.

At the close of trial, the court instructed the jury on the elements of both first- and second-degree murder. Under Tennessee law, first-degree murder requires proof of premeditation and deliberation, while second-degree murder requires proof of malice. The court's instructions defined malice as "an intent to do any injury to another, a design formed in the mind of doing mischief to another." App. 186. Malice did not require proof of planning or premeditation; a killing "upon a sudden impulse of passion" sufficed if committed with intent to harm another. Id., at 187. The court then charged the jury:

"All homicides are presumed to be malicious in the absence of evidence which would rebut the implied presumption. Thus, if the State has proven beyond a reasonable . . . doubt that a killing has occurred, then it is presumed that the killing was done maliciously. But this presumption may be rebutted by either direct or circumstantial evidence, or by both, regardless of whether the same be offered by the Defendant, or exists in the evidence of the State." Ibid.

The jury found respondent guilty of first-degree murder for killing Faulk and of second-degree murder for killing Browning.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions, rejecting respondent's argument that the jury instructions had impermissibly shifted the burden of proof as to malice.2 Respondent then sought habeas corpus relief in the Middle District of Tennessee. The District Court held that the malice instruction had violated respondent's right to have his guilt proved beyond a reasonable doubt, as that right was defined in Sandstrom v. Montana.3 The court went on to find that the error could not be deemed harmless because respondent had "relied upon a mens rea defense" in contesting his guilt. 611 F.Supp. 294, 302 (1983).

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.4 The court agreed that the malice instruction was unconstitutional under Sandstrom. Turning to the question whether the error was harmless, the court reasoned that because respondent contested malice at his trial, an erroneous burden-shifting instruction could not be harmless under governing precedent. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-5 (citing Engle v. Koehler, 707 F.2d 241, 246 (CA6 1983), aff'd by an equally divided Court, 466 U.S. 1, 104 S.Ct. 1673, 80 L.Ed.2d 1 (1984)). The court reached this conclusion "despite the substantial evidence of petitioner's guilt," and added:

"Were we writing on a clean slate, we would direct our inquiry to that suggested by Justice Powell (dissenting) in Connecticut v. Johnson, 460 U.S....

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