United States v. Goodwin

Decision Date18 June 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-2195,80-2195
Citation73 L.Ed.2d 74,102 S.Ct. 2485,457 U.S. 368
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner v. Learley Reed GOODWIN
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

After initially expressing an interest in plea bargaining on misdemeanor charges, respondent decided not to plead guilty and requested a trial by jury. While the misdemeanor charges were still pending, he was indicted and convicted in Federal District Court on a felony charge arising out of the same incident as the misdemeanor charges. Respondent moved to set aside the verdict on the ground of prosecutorial vindictiveness, contending that the felony indictment gave rise to an impermissible appearance of retaliation. The District Court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although the prosecutor did not act with actual vindictiveness in seeking a felony indictment, the Due Process Clause prohibits the Government from bringing more serious charges against the defendant after he has invoked his right to a jury trial, unless the prosecutor comes forward with objective evidence that the increased charges could not have been brought before the defendant exercised his right. Believing that the circumstances surrounding the felony indictment gave rise to a genuine risk of retaliation, the court adopted a legal presumption of prosecutorial vindictiveness.

Held : A presumption of prosecutorial vindictiveness was not warranted in this case, and absent such a presumption no due process violation was established. Pp. 372-384.

(a) In cases in which action detrimental to a defendant has been taken after the exercise of a legal right, the presumption of an improper vindictive motive has been applied only where a reasonable likelihood of vindictiveness existed. North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 89 S.Ct. 2072, 23 L.Ed.2d 656; Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 94 S.Ct. 2098, 40 L.Ed.2d 628. Cf. Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357, 98 S.Ct. 663, 54 L.Ed.2d 604. Pp. 372-380.

(b) A change in the prosecutor's charging decision made after an initial trial is completed is much more likely to be improperly motivated than is a pretrial decision. It is unrealistic to assume that a prosecutor's probable response to such pretrial motions as to be tried by a jury is to seek to penalize and to deter. Here, the timing of the prosecutor's action suggests that a presumption of vindictiveness was not warranted. A prosecutor should remain free before trial to exercise his discretion to determine the extent of the societal interest in the prosecution. The ini- tial charges filed by a prosecutor may not reflect the extent to which an individual is legitimately subject to prosecution. Bordenkircher, supra. Pp. 380-382.

(c) The nature of the right asserted by respondent confirms that a presumption of vindictiveness was not warranted in this case. The mere fact that a defendant refuses to plead guilty and forces the government to prove its case is insufficient to warrant a presumption that subsequent changes in the charging decision are unwarranted. Bordenkircher, supra. Pp. 382-383.

(d) The fact that respondent, as opposed to having a bench trial, requested a jury trial does not compel a special presumption of prosecutorial vindictiveness whenever additional charges are thereafter brought. While there may have been an opportunity for vindictiveness here, a mere opportunity for vindictiveness is insufficient to justify the imposition of a prophylactic rule. The possibility that a prosecutor would respond to a defendant's pretrial demand for a jury trial by bringing charges not in the public interest that could be explained only as a penalty imposed on the defendant is sounlikely that a presumption of vindictiveness is certainly not warranted. Pp.383-384

4th Cir., 637 F.2d 250, reversed and remanded.

Andrew L. Frey, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Paul W. Spence, Baltimore, Md., for respondent.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves presumptions. The question presented is whether a presumption that has been used to evaluate a judicial or prosecutorial response to a criminal defendant's exercise of a right to be retried after he has been convicted should also be applied to evaluate a prosecutor's pretrial response to a defendant's demand for a jury trial.

After the respondent requested a trial by jury on pending misdemeanor charges, he was indicted and convicted on a felony charge. Believing that the sequence of events gave rise to an impermissible appearance of prosecutorial retaliation against the defendant's exercise of his right to be tried by jury, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the felony conviction. 637 F.2d 250. Because this case presents an important question concerning the scope of our holdings in North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 89 S.Ct. 2072, 23 L.Ed.2d 656, and Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 94 S.Ct. 2098, 40 L.Ed.2d 628, we granted the Government's petition for certiorari. 454 U.S. 1079, 102 S.Ct. 632, 70 L.Ed.2d 613.

I

Respondent Goodwin was stopped for speeding by a United States Park Policeman on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Goodwin emerged from his car to talk to the policeman. After a brief discussion, the officer noticed a clear plastic bag underneath the armrest next to the driver's seat of Goodwin's car. The officer asked Goodwin to return to his car and to raise the armrest. Respondent did so, but as he raised the armrest he placed the car into gear and accelerated rapidly. The car struck the officer, knocking him first onto the back of the car and then onto the highway. The policeman returned to his car, but Goodwin eluded him in a high-speed chase.

The following day, the officer filed a complaint in the District Court charging respondent with several misdemeanor and petty offenses, including assault. Goodwin was arrested and arraigned before a United States Magistrate. The Magistrate set a date for trial, but respondent fled the jurisdiction. Three years later Goodwin was found in custody in Virginia and was returned to Maryland.

Upon his return, respondent's case was assigned to an attorney from the Department of Justice, who was detailed temporarily to try petty crime and misdemeanor cases before the Magistrate. The attorney did not have authority to try felony cases or to seek indictments from the grand jury. Respondent initiated plea negotiations with the prosecutor, but later advised the Government that he did not wish to plead guilty and desired a trial by jury in the District Court.1

The case was transferred to the District Court and responsibility for the prosecution was assumed by an Assistant United States Attorney. Approximately six weeks later, after reviewing the case and discussing it with several parties, the prosecutor obtained a four-count indictment charging respondent with one felony count of forcibly assaulting a federal officer and three related counts arising from the same incident.2 A jury convicted respondent on the felony count and on one misdemeanor count.

Respondent moved to set aside the verdict on the ground of prosecutorial vindictiveness, contending that the indictment on the felony charge gave rise to an impermissible appearance of retaliation. The District Court denied the motion, finding that "the prosecutor in this case has adequately dispelled any appearance of retaliatory intent." 3 Although the Court of Appeals readily concluded that "the prosecutor did not act with actual vindictiveness in seeking a felony indictment," 637 F.2d, at 252, it nevertheless reversed. Relying on our decisions in North Carolina v. Pearce, supra, and Blackledge v. Perry, supra, the court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits the Government from bringing more serious charges against a defendant after he has invoked his right to a jury trial, unless the prosecutor comes forward with objective evidence to show that the increased charges could not have been brought before the defendant exercised his rights. Because the court believed that the circumstances surrounding the felony indictment gave rise to a genuine risk of retaliation, it adopted a legal presumption designed to spare courts the "unseemly task" of probing the actual motives of the prosecutor. 637 F.2d, at 255.

II

To punish a person because he has done what the law plainly allows him to do is a due process violation "of the most basic sort." Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357, 363, 98 S.Ct. 663, 668, 54 L.Ed.2d 604. In a series of cases beginning with North Carolina v. Pearce and culminating in Bordenkircher v. Hayes, the Court has recognized this basic—and itself uncontroversial principle. For while an individual certainly may be penalized for violating the law, he just as certainly may not be punished for exercising a protected statutory or constitutional right.4

The imposition of punishment is the very purpose of virtually all criminal proceedings. The presence of a punitive motivation, therefore, does not provide an adequate basis for distinguishing governmental action that is fully justified as a legitimate response to perceived criminal conduct from governmental action that is an impermissible response to noncriminal, protected activity. Motives are complex and difficult to prove. As a result, in certain cases in which action detrimental to the defendant has been taken after the exercise of a legal right, the Court has found it necessary to "presume" an improper vindictive motive. Given the severity of such a presumption, however—which may operate in the absence of any proof of an improper motive and thus may block a legitimate response to criminal conduct—the Court has done so only in cases in which a reasonable likelihood of vindictiveness exists.

In North Carolina v. Pearce, the Court held that neither the Double Jeopardy Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause prohibits a trial judge from imposing a harsher sentence...

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