Sandstrom v. Montana, No. 78-5384

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation442 U.S. 510,99 S.Ct. 2450,61 L.Ed.2d 39
Docket NumberNo. 78-5384
Decision Date18 June 1979
PartiesDavid SANDSTROM, Petitioner, v. State of MONTANA

442 U.S. 510
99 S.Ct. 2450
61 L.Ed.2d 39
David SANDSTROM, Petitioner,

v.

State of MONTANA.

No. 78-5384.
Argued April 18, 1979.
Decided June 18, 1979.
Syllabus

Based upon a confession and other evidence, petitioner was charged under a Montana statute with "deliberate homicide," in that he "purposely or knowingly" caused the victim's death. At trial, petitioner argued that, although he killed the victim, he did not do so "purposely or knowingly," and therefore was not guilty of deliberate homicide. The trial court instructed the jury that "[t]he law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts," over petitioner's objection that such instruction had the effect of shifting the burden of proof on the issue of purpose or knowledge. The jury found petitioner guilty, and the Montana Supreme Court affirmed, holding that although shifting the burden of proof to the defendant by means of a presumption is prohibited, allocation of "some burden of proof" to a defendant is permissible. Finding that under the instruction in question petitioner's sole burden was to produce "some " evidence that he did not intend the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts, and not to disprove that he acted "purposely or knowingly," the Montana court held that the instruction did not violate due process standards.

Held: Because the jury may have interpreted the challenged presumption as conclusive, like the presumptions in Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed. 288, and United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422, 98 S.Ct. 2864, 57 L.Ed.2d 854, or as shifting the burden of persuasion, like that in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508, and because either interpretation would have violated the Fourteenth Amendment's requirement that the State prove every element of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the instruction is unconstitutional. Pp. 514-527.

(a) The effect of a presumption in a jury instruction is determined by the way in which a reasonable juror could have interpreted it, not by a state court's interpretation of its legal import. Pp.514,517.

(b) Conclusive presumptions "conflict with the overriding presumption of innocence with which the law endows the accused and which extends to every element of the crime," Morissette, supra, at 275, 72 S.Ct. at 255, and they "invad[e the] factfinding function," United States Gypsum Co., supra, at 446, 98 S.Ct. at 2878, which in a criminal case the law assigns to the jury. The presumption announced to petitioner's jury may well have had exactly

Page 511

these consequences, since upon finding proof of one element of the crime (causing death), and of facts insufficient to establish the second (the voluntariness and "ordinary consequences" of petitioner's action), the jury could have reasonably concluded that it was directed to find against petitioner on the element of intent. The State was thus not forced to prove "beyond a reasonable DOUBT . . . EVERY FACT NECESSARY TO CONSTITUTe the crime . . . charged," in re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368, and petitioner was deprived of his constitutional rights. Pp. 521-523.

(c) A presumption which, although not conclusive, had the effect of shifting the burden of persuasion to petitioner, would have suffered from similar infirmities. If the jury interpreted the presumption in this manner, it could have concluded that upon proof by the State of the slaying, and of additional facts not themselves establishing the element of intent, the burden was then shifted to petitioner to prove that he lacked the requisite mental state. Such a presumption was found constitutionally deficient in Mullaney, supra. P.524

(d) Without merit is the State's argument that since the jury could have interpreted the word "intends" in the instruction as referring only to petitioner's "purpose," and could have convicted petitioner solely for his "knowledge" without considering "purpose," it might not have relied upon the tainted presumption at all. First, it is not clear that a jury would have so interpreted "intends". More significantly, even if a jury could have ignored the presumption, it cannot be certain that this is what it did do, as its verdict was a general one. Pp. 525-526.

(e) Since whether the jury's reliance upon the instruction constituted, or could have ever constituted, harmless error are issues that were not considered by the Montana Supreme Court, this Court will not reach them as an initial matter. Pp. 526-527.

176 Mont. 492, 580 P.2d 106, reversed and remanded.

Byron W. Boggs, Helena, Mont., for petitioner.

Michael T. Greely, Atty. Gen., Helena, Mont., for respondent.

Page 512

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether, in a case in which intent is an element of the crime charged, the jury instruction, "the law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts," violates the Fourteenth Amendment's requirement that the State prove every element of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

I

On November 22, 1976, 18-year-old David Sandstrom confessed to the slaying of Annie Jessen. Based upon the confession and corroborating evidence, petitioner was charged on December 2 with "deliberate homicide," Mont.Code Ann. § 45-5-102 (1978), in that he "purposely or knowingly caused the death of Annie Jessen." App. 3.1 At trial, Sandstrom's attorney informed the jury that, although his client admitted killing Jessen, he did not do so "purposely or knowingly," and was therefore not guilty of "deliberate homicide" but of a lesser crime. Id., at 6-8. The basic support for this contention was the testimony of two court-appointed mental health experts, each of whom described for the jury petitioner's mental state at the time of the incident. Sandstrom's attorney argued that this testimony demonstrated that petitioner, due to a personality disorder aggravated by alcohol consumption, did not kill Annie Jessen "purposely or knowingly." 2

Page 513

The prosecution requested the trial judge to instruct the jury that "[t]he law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts." Petitioner's counsel objected, arguing that "the instruction has the effect of shifting the burden of proof on the issue of" purpose or knowledge to the defense, and that "that is impermissible under the Federal Constitution, due process of law." Id., at 34. He offered to provide a number of federal decisions in support of the objection, including this Court's holding in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975), but was told by the judge: "You can give those to the Supreme Court. The objection is overruled." App. 34. The instruction was delivered, the jury found petitioner guilty of deliberate homicide, id., at 38, and petitioner was sentenced to 100 years in prison.

Sandstrom appealed to the Supreme Court of Montana, again contending that the instruction shifted to the defendant the burden of disproving an element of the crime charged, in violation of Mullaney v. Wilbur, supra, In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970), and Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977). The Montana court conceded that these cases did prohibit shifting the burden of proof to the defendant by means of a presumption, but held that the cases "do not prohibit allocation ofsome burden of proof to a defendant under certain circumstances." 176 Mont. 492, 497, 580 P.2d 106, 109 (1978). Since in the court's view, "[d]efendant's sole burden under instruction No. 5 was to produce some evidence that he did not intend the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts, not to disprove that he acted 'purposely' or 'knowingly,' . . . the instruction does not violate due process

Page 514

standards as defined by the United States or Montana Constitution . . . ." Ibid. (emphasis added).

Both federal and state courts have held, under a variety of rationales, that the giving of an instruction similar to that challenged here is fatal to the validity of a criminal conviction.3 We granted certiorari, 439 U.S. 1067, 99 S.Ct. 832, 59 L.Ed.2d 31 (1979), to decide the important question of the instruction's constitutionality. We reverse.

II

The threshold inquiry in ascertaining the constitutional analysis applicable to this kind of jury instruction is to determine the nature of the presumption it describes. See Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140, 157-163, 99 S.Ct. 2213, 2224-2227, 60 L.Ed.2d 777 (1979). That determination requires careful attention to the words actually spoken to the jury, see id., at 157-159, n. 16, 99 S.Ct., at 2225, for whether a defendant has been accorded his constitutional rights depends upon the way in which a reasonable juror could have interpreted the instruction.

Respondent argues, first, that the instruction merely described a permissive inference—that is, it allowed but did not require the jury to draw conclusions about defendant's intent from his actions—and that such inferences are constitutional. Brief for Respondent 3, 15. These arguments need not detain us long, for even respondent admits that "it's possible" that

Page 515

the jury believed they were required to apply the presumption. Tr. of Oral Arg. 28. Sandstrom's jurors were told that "[t]he law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts." They were not told that they had a choice, or that they might infer that conclusion; they were told only that the law presumed it. It is clear that a reasonable juror could easily have viewed such an instruction as mandatory. See generally United States v. Wharton, 139 U.S.App.D.C. 293, 298, 433 F.2d 451, 456 (1970); Green v. United States, 132 U.S.App.D.C. 98, 99, 405 F.2d 1368, 1369 (1968). See also...

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3144 practice notes
  • Connecticut v. Johnson, No. 81-927
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 23, 1983
    ...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 "t......
  • Fransaw v. Lynaugh, No. 85-2635
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • February 23, 1987
    ...of voluntary manslaughter as a lesser included offense of section 19.02(a)(2) murder. 4 See Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 Page 522 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 2454, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979) (stating that whether a jury instruction accords the defendant his constitutional rights "depends upon the way i......
  • Erdheim v. Greiner, No. 97 Civ. 7002(LAK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 28, 1998
    ...N.Y.S.2d 419 (1998) (error in jury charge that failed to affect outcome of trial was harmless). 42. Pet. Br. 15 (misquoting Tr. 818). 43. 442 U.S. 510, 515, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979)(proscribing jury instructions which shift the burden of proof onto defendants). 44. Tr. 818. 45. S......
  • Williams v. Chrans, No. 87 C 02084.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • July 5, 1990
    ...did not announce a new rule but was "merely an application of the principle" that governed the Court's decision in Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979). Yates, 484 U.S. at 216-17, 108 S.Ct. at 538. The Court determined that the doctrine against burden-shif......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3142 cases
  • Connecticut v. Johnson, No. 81-927
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 23, 1983
    ...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 "t......
  • Fransaw v. Lynaugh, No. 85-2635
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • February 23, 1987
    ...of voluntary manslaughter as a lesser included offense of section 19.02(a)(2) murder. 4 See Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 Page 522 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 2454, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979) (stating that whether a jury instruction accords the defendant his constitutional rights "depends upon the way i......
  • Erdheim v. Greiner, No. 97 Civ. 7002(LAK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 28, 1998
    ...N.Y.S.2d 419 (1998) (error in jury charge that failed to affect outcome of trial was harmless). 42. Pet. Br. 15 (misquoting Tr. 818). 43. 442 U.S. 510, 515, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979)(proscribing jury instructions which shift the burden of proof onto defendants). 44. Tr. 818. 45. S......
  • Williams v. Chrans, No. 87 C 02084.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • July 5, 1990
    ...did not announce a new rule but was "merely an application of the principle" that governed the Court's decision in Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979). Yates, 484 U.S. at 216-17, 108 S.Ct. at 538. The Court determined that the doctrine against burden-shif......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • The Roberts Court and Supreme Court's New Antitrust Law for the Global Knowledge and Entrepreneurial Economy in a “Perfect Storm” of Danger—And Opportunity
    • United States
    • Antitrust Bulletin Nbr. 54-1, March 2009
    • March 1, 2009
    ...ON EVIDENCE 585, 573 (6th ed. 2006).Leading cases include United States v. U. S. Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422 (1978)and Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979). ATB Spring 2009 article by: Weller 06-25-2009 that “conclusively” presumed the criminal intent element was uncon-stitutional: “A con......
  • Criminal Antitrust
    • United States
    • Antitrust Bulletin Nbr. 61-4, December 2016
    • December 1, 2016
    ...JURY INSTRUCTIONS IN CRIMINAL ANTITRUST CASES (2009).16. Id. at 54 (emphasis added).17. 342 U.S. 246 (1952). Accord Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979) (unanimous) (‘‘As in Morissette and United StatesGypsum Co., a conclusive presumption in this case would ‘conflict with the overridin......
  • The End of Criminal Antitrust's per Se Conclusive Presumptions
    • United States
    • Antitrust Bulletin Nbr. 58-4, December 2013
    • December 1, 2013
    ...(collected criminal jury instructions). 5 342 U.S. 246 (1952). Accord Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, (1979) (unanimous) (“As in Morissette and United States Gypsum Co., a conclu- sive presumption in this case would ‘conflict with the overriding presumption 668 : THE ANTITRUST BULLETIN:......

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