United States v. Rogers

Decision Date04 April 1961
Docket NumberNo. 8214.,8214.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. James Hugh ROGERS, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Elliott T. Halio, Charleston, S. C. (Court-assigned counsel), for appellant.

Arthur G. Howe, Asst. U. S. Atty., Charleston, S. C. (N. Welch Morrisette, Jr., U. S. Atty., Columbia, S. C., on the brief), for appellee.

Before SOBELOFF, Chief Judge, HAYNSWORTH, Circuit Judge, and BRYAN, District Judge.

HAYNSWORTH, Circuit Judge.

The defendant has appealed from his conviction under the "bank robbery statute,"1 complaining that the proof did not show the commission of larceny and that the verdict of the jury was coerced by the Court's instructions. We think the proof did support the conviction, but that a new trial should be granted because of the possibly coercive effect of the Court's instructions designed to produce agreement of the jurors upon a verdict.

There was testimony showing that, at the request of his brother, the defendant took a payroll check, payable to the brother in the face amount of $97.92, to a bank where the brother maintained an account. In accordance with the brother's request, he asked the teller to deposit $80 to the credit of the brother's account and to deliver to him the balance of the check in cash. The teller was inexperienced. She first inquired of another teller whether the check could be credited to an account in part and cashed in part. Having been told that this was permissible, she required the defendant's endorsement on the check, and, misreading its date (12 06 59) as the amount payable, she deducted the $80 deposit and placed $1,126.59 on the counter. There were two strapped packages, each containing $500, and $126.59 in miscellaneous bills and change. The defendant took the $1,126.59 in cash thus placed upon the counter and departed.

There was also testimony that when the day's business was done, the teller who handled the transaction was found to be short in her accounts by $1,108.67, the exact amount of the difference between the $1,206.59, for which she had supposed the check to have been drawn, and $97.92, its actual face amount, and that her adding machine tape showed that she had accepted the check as having been drawn for $1,206.59.

There was corroboration from other witnesses of some phases of this story as told by the tellers and the bookkeeper.

The defendant agreed that he took the check to the bank for his brother, asked that $80 be credited to his brother's account, and that the excess be paid to him in cash. He stated, however, that he received in cash only the $17.92, to which he was entitled, denying that he had received the larger sum.

The case was submitted to the jury under instructions that they should find the defendant guilty if they found the much larger sum was placed upon the counter and was taken by the defendant with the intention to appropriate the overpayment, or if he thereafter formed the intention to, and did, appropriate the overpayment to his own use.

After it had deliberated for approximately four hours, the jury reported at 4:15 o'clock in the afternoon that it was unable to reach an agreement upon a verdict. Thereupon, the Court instructed the jury regarding its duty to agree, but without the ameliorating admonition that no juror should yield his conscientious conviction.2 The jury again retired and, in a few minutes, at 4:32 o'clock in the afternoon, reported it had reached an agreement upon a verdict.

The "Allen charge" approved by the United States Supreme Court in Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492, 501, 17 S.Ct. 154, 41 L.Ed. 528, had a prior history of approval,3 and has subsequently been approved on numerous occasions in this,4 as in other, subordinate federal courts. Had the charge approved in Allen been given here, there would be no open question of its propriety.

The charge approved in Allen approaches the limits to which the court should go in suggesting to jurors the desirability of agreement and avoidance of the necessity of a retrial before another jury. If it went much further, or if it were stripped of its complementary reminder that jurors were not to acquiesce in the views of the majority or to surrender their well-founded convictions conscientiously held, it might readily be construed by the minority of the jurors as coercive, suggesting to them that they should surrender their views in deference to the majority and concur in what really is a majority, rather than a unanimous, verdict.

That the Allen charge, itself, approaches ultimate permissible limits is indicated by the cases requiring new trials when the charge has been given after the court has learned, by inquiry, that the division in the jury is substantially unequal. The United States Supreme Court in Burton v. United States, 196 U.S. 283, 25 S.Ct. 243, 49 L.Ed. 482, expressed its disapproval of the court's inquiry as to the numerical division in the jury when it was followed by the Allen charge. In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 47 S.Ct. 135, 71 L.Ed. 345, it reversed a judgment because of the combination of these two circumstances.5

The fact that the Allen charge was preceded by an inquiry which disclosed that the jurors were divided between a substantial majority on the one hand and a substantial minority on the other could add but little to the potentially coercive effect of the charge. Whether the court knew how the jurors were divided, or had obtained such information in response to its own inquiry, if, in fact, only a small minority of the jurors stood in disagreement with their fellows, they would necessarily take the language of the charge as being directed at them and suggesting that they, rather then the majority, reconsider their views. Moreover, the preliminary inquiry is not such a purposeless thing as has sometimes been suggested. Information as to whether the jury is divided equally or substantially so, or very unequally, is useful to the trial judge in deciding whether to declare a mistrial or to ask the jury to deliberate further. If the division is very unequal, ultimate agreement may appear more probable, and thus make more appropriate his request that they deliberate further and, in that connection, the giving of the Allen charge.

Precedent inquiry as to the jury's division is such a trifling addition to the impact of the Allen charge that Wigmore has said in reference to it, "a finical spirit has sometimes rebuked such questions and has even not scrupled to delay the course of justice for this petty cause," (citing the Burton and Brasfield cases).6

Instructions have been held to be erroneous when the Allen charge has been supplemented by a quotation from the opinion of the Supreme Court in the Allen case,7 an addition in the measured words of the Supreme Court which may lend additional emphasis to the desirability of agreement, but which does not remove or destroy the force of the reminder that acquiescence is not required, and that reasoned opinions and firm convictions thoughtfully reached should not be abandoned.

If such slight additions to the Allen charge as precedent inquiry revealing an unequal division in the jury or a quotation from the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States, converts an otherwise proper and appropriate charge into one that is prejudicial and erroneous, how much more objectionable it is if the reminder that makes the Allen charge tolerable in the first place is omitted altogether. Here what was given was not the Allen charge, but only a paraphrase of that portion of it which directs the attention of the jurors to their duty to agree, without the reminder of their duty of dissent if dissent is founded upon reasoned conclusions reasonably arrived at and reasonably held. Without reference to both sides of the coin, a strong statement of the duty of agreement may readily be construed by those jurors in the minority as requiring a deferential surrender to the views, however unreasoned they may be, of the majority.

There is indication that the jurors in the minority in this instance did put such a construction upon the court's charge. The jury had reported itself hopelessly in disagreement and unable to reach a verdict when the supplemental charge was given. Within a few minutes thereafter the jurors reported themselves in agreement. The time interval was quite long enough for acceptance of a theory of majority rule, but was hardly long enough to have permitted a painstaking re-examination of the views which the minority had held steadfastly until the charge was given.

Recently, in Rhodes v. United States, 4 Cir., 282 F.2d 59, 62, and in Orthopedic Equipment Co. v. Eutsler, 4 Cir., 276 F.2d 455, this court took pains to point out in the language of Judge Sobeloff:

"`It is proper for the judge to admonish jurors who are in disagreement to re-examine their opinions in light of the contrary opinions of their fellows, provided it is made equally clear that the jury\'s verdict must represent the final judgment of each juror, and not merely his acquiescence in a majority view of which he remains conscientiously unconvinced.\'"

We have thus indicated that the permissibility of a direction to jurors to re-examine their views in the light of those of their fellows is dependent upon the moderating reminder of their own individual responsibility and the necessity that any verdict be that of each of the jurors and not just that of a majority.8 When the moderating condition which makes the direction to re-examine their views permissible, and desirable in many cases, is omitted, then the direction becomes so likely to be coercive, that a verdict rendered promptly thereafter should not be allowed to stand.

Because the "Allen charge" was incomplete and one-sided, and was followed immediately by a verdict of a jury which had just reported itself hopelessly deadlocked, we think a new trial is...

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