Wade v. Hunter

Decision Date25 April 1949
Docket NumberNo. 427,427
Citation93 L.Ed. 974,69 S.Ct. 834,336 U.S. 684
PartiesWADE v. HUNTER, Warden
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 337 U.S. 921, 69 S.Ct. 1152.

Messrs. R. T. Brewster, of Kansas City, Mo., and N. E. Snyder, of Kansas City, Kan., for petitioner.

Mr. Oscar Davis, of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that a person shall not 'be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb' for the same offense. The petitioner, now in prison under a court-martial conviction for a serious offense, contends he is entitled to his freedom because another court-martial had previously put him in jeopardy for the same offense. The first court-martial was dissolved by the convening authority before the court reached a decision. The Government contends that the Fifth Amendment's double-jeopardy provision, if applicable to military courts, did not bar the second court-martial conviction here because, as the Government views the record, dissolution of the first court-martial was dictated by a pressing military tactical situation. The circumstances from which these contentions arise are as follows.

March 13, 1945, American troops of the 76th Infantry Division entered Krov, Germany. The next afternoon two German women were raped by two men in American uniforms. Several days later petitioner and another American soldier were arrested upon charges that they committed these offenses. Two weeks later, March 27, the troops had advanced about 22 miles farther into Germany to a place called Pfalzfeld. On that date at Pfalzfeld petitioner and the other soldier were put on trial before a general court-martial convened by order of the Commanding General of the 76th Infantry Division to which Division the two soldiers were attached.1 After hearing evidence and arguments of counsel, the court-martial closed to consider the case. Later that day the court-martial reopened and announced that the court would be continued until a later date to be fixed by the judge advocate. The reason for the continuance was the desire of the court-martial to hear other witnesses not then available before deciding the guilt or innocence of the accused.2

A week later the Commanding General of the 76th Division withdrew the charges from the court-martial directing it to take no further proceedings. The General then transmitted the charges to the Commanding General of the Third Army with recommendations for trial by a new court-martial. The reason for transferring the charges as explained in a communication to the Commanding General of the Third Army was:

'The case was previously referred for trial by general court-martial and trial was commenced. Two witnesses, the mother and father of the victim of the alleged rape, were unable to be present due to sickness, and the Court continued the case so that their testimony could be obtained. Due to the tactical situation the distance to the residence of such witnesses has become so great that the case cannot be compl ted within a reasonable time.'

The Commanding General of the Third Army concluded that the 'tactical situation' of his command and its 'considerable distance' from Krov made it impracticable for the Third Army to conduct the court-martial. Accordingly, he in turn transmitted the charges to the Fifteenth Army stating that this action was necessary to carry out the policy of the American Army in Europe to accelerate prompt trials 'in the immediate vicinity of the alleged offenses.' Pursuant to this transmittal, the Fifteenth Army Commanding General convened a court-martial at a point about forty miles from Krov. Petitioner, represented by counsel, filed a plea in bar alleging that he had been put in jeopardy by the first court-martial proceedings and could not be tried again. His plea was overruled, the case was tried, and a conviction followed. He was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and life imprisonment, which imprisonment was later reduced to twenty years.3

After exhausting his right to military review, petitioner brought this habeas corpus proceeding in a federal district court. That court ordered his release, holding that his plea of former jeopardy should have been sustained. 72 F.Supp. 755. The Court of Appeals reversed, one judge dissenting. 10 Cir., 169 F.2d 973. We hold that under the circumstances shown, the Fifth Amendment's double-jeopardy provision did not bar petitioner's trial before the second court-martial.4

The interpretation and application of the Fifth Amendment's double-jeopardy provision have bene considered chiefly in civil rather than military court proceedings. Past cases have decided that a defendant, put to trial before a jury, may be subjected to the kind of 'jeopardy' that bars a second trial for the same offense even though his trial is discontinued without a verdict. See Kepner v. United States, 195 U.S. 100, 128, 24 S.Ct. 797, 804, 49 L.Ed. 114, 1 Ann.Cas. 655; cf. Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 322—323, 58 S.Ct. 149, 150, 82 L.Ed. 288. The same may be true where a judge trying a case without a jury fails for some reason to enter a judgment. McCarthy v. Zerbst, 10 Cir., 85 F.2d 640, 642. The double-jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment, however, does not mean that every time a defendant is put to trial before a competent tribunal he is entitled to go free if the trial fails to end in a final judgment. Such a rule would create an insuperable obstacle to the administration of justice in many cases in which there is no semblance of the type of oppressive practices a which the double-jeopardy prohibition is aimed. There may be unforeseeable circumstances that arise during a trial making its completion impossible, such as the failure of a jury to agree on a verdict. In such event the purpose of law to protect society from those guilty of crimes frequently would be frustrated by denying courts power to put the defendant to trial again. And there have been instances where a trial judge has discovered facts during a trial which indicated that one or more members of a jury might be biased against the Government of the defendant. It is settled that the duty of the judge in this event is to discharge the jury and direct a retrial.5 What has been said is enough to show that a defendant's valued right to have his trial completed by a particular tribunal must in some instances be subordinated to the public's interest in fair trials designed to end in just judgments.

When justice requires that a particular trial be discontinued is a question that should be decided by persons conversant with factors relevant to the determination. The guiding rule of federal courts for determining when trials should be discontinued was outlined by this Court in United States v. Perez, 9 Wheat. 579, 6 L.Ed. 165. In that case the trial judge without consent of the defendant or the Government discharged the jury because its members were unable to agree. The defendant claimed that he could not be tried again and prayed for his discharge as a matter of right. In answering the claim this Court said, 9 Wheat. at page 580:

'* * * We think, that in all cases of this nature, the law has invested Courts of justice with the authority to discharge a jury from giving any verdict whenever, in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity for the act, or the ends of public justice would otherwise be defeated. They are to exercise a sound discretion on the subject; and it is impossible to define all the circumstances, which would render it proper to interfere. To be sure, the power ought to be used with the greatest caution, under urgent circumstances, and for very plain and obvious causes; and, in capital cases especially, Courts should be extremely careful how they interfere with any of the chances of life, in favour of the prisoner. But, after all, they have the right to order the discharge; and the security which the public have for the faithful, sound, and conscientious exercise of this discretion, rests, in this, as in other cases, upon the responsibility of the Judges, under their oaths of office. * * *'

The rule announced in the Perez case has been the basis for all later decisions of this Court on double jeopardy.6 It attempts to lay down no rigid formula. Under the rule a trial can be discontinued when particular circumstances manifest a necessity for so doing, and when failure to discontinue would defeat the ends of justice. We see no reason why the same broad test should not be applied in deciding whether court-martial action runs counter to the Fifth Amendment's provision against double jeopardy. Measured by the Perez rule to which we adhere, petitioner's second court-martial trial was not the kind of double jeopardy within the intent of the Fifth Amendment.

There is no claim here that the court-martial went beyond its powers in temporarily continuing the trial to obtain the benefit of other witnesses.7 But the District Court viewed the record as showing that the only purpose of dissolving the court-martial was t get more witnesses. This purpose, the District Court held, was not the kind of 'imperious' or 'urgent necessity' that came within the recognized exception to the double-jeopardy provision. See Cornero v. United States, 9 Cir., 48 F.2d 69, 74 A.L.R. 797. We are urged to apply the Cornero interpretation of the 'urgent necessity' rule here. We are asked to adopt the Cornero rule under which petitioner contends the absence of witnesses can never justify discontinuance of a trial. Such a rigid formula is inconsistent with the guiding principles of the Perez decision to which we adhere. Those principles command courts in considering whether a trial should be terminated without judgment to take 'all circumstances into account' and thereby forbid the mechanical application of...

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