Williams v. Parke

Decision Date16 August 1984
Docket NumberNo. 82-5586,82-5586
Citation741 F.2d 847
PartiesR.B. WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Al C. PARKE, Warden, et al., Respondents-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Charles E. King (argued), Louisville, Ky., for petitioner-appellant.

Steven Beshear, Atty. Gen., David K. Martin (argued), Asst. Atty. Gen., Frankfort, Ky., for respondents-appellees.

Before CONTIE and WELLFORD, Circuit Judges, and MORTON, District Judge. *

WELLFORD, Circuit Judge.

In Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492, 17 S.Ct. 154, 41 L.Ed. 528 (1896), the Supreme Court approved the use of a supplemental charge--typically referred to as an Allen charge--to encourage jurors to consider further their tentative positions during deliberations in criminal trials. This appeal involves the propriety of such a supplemental charge in petitioner's trial in state court during jury deliberations. Petitioner sought review of the charge by petitioning the federal district court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. 1 The court denied the petition, and this appeal ensued. The judgment is affirmed.

R.B. Williams, the petitioner, was tried by a jury in a Kentucky state court for murder in connection with the death of Richard Torian. The evidence established that petitioner shot and killed Torian with a pistol as charged in the indictment. Petitioner contended, however, that the shooting was in self-defense. Petitioner testified that there was "bad blood" between petitioner and Torian stemming from their romantic interests in the same woman, Vanessa Thomas. The confrontation in which the shooting occurred followed an altercation between petitioner, Torian, and Torian's brother in which Richard Torian beat and kicked petitioner. After the fight, Thomas told petitioner that she had noticed a gun handle protruding from Torian's belt. Two days later, petitioner again encountered Torian. Petitioner claimed that Torian made a sudden move as if to draw a gun, causing petitioner to fear for his life. Petitioner, himself armed, drew a gun and shot Torian in the chest three times. Only petitioner's gun was ever located.

The jury began its deliberations at about 3:20 p.m. on the day the trial had begun. At 5:05 p.m., the jury returned to report difficulty. The following dialogue took place:

Judge: Do you have an inquiry which you wish to make of the Court, Ladies and Gentlemen?

Mr. Jerry Almy--One of the Jury: Yes, sir, Judge.

Judge: All right. What is it?

Almy: Judge, we are far apart on our decision. We want to know the procedure, of what we are going to have to do. Do we go back to try and--we are kinda far apart on the numbers so ...

Judge: Well, let me ask you this question: Now, don't tell who, or how many or for what, but just tell me numerically how you are divided, such as 7-3 or ...

Almy: 7-5.

Judge: Well, you have been out about 10 minutes short of 2 hours. Do you think if you had a chance to deliberate a little longer that you might reach some kind of verdict in the case?

Almy: We can try.

Judge: Well, I will let you try a little longer.

Let me read to you this instruction too which the Court is authorized to read in this kind of case.

Now on the trial of this case what I want to say to you should in no way influence your decision either for or against the Commonwealth or for against [sic] the defendant but I want to merely point out to you that this trial is expensive, both upon the Commonwealth and the defendant. You twelve (12) people have been chosen to decide this issue and I know of no better qualified persons to make the decision. You realize that this issue must be decided by someone either now or in the future and perhaps after further deliberation you can reevaluate your decision and opinion in the case and also consider the opinion and the position of your fellow jurors.

With this in mind, I am now resubmitting the case to you to see if you can reach a verdict.

Take the instructions and retire to the jury room and see if you can reach a verdict. If you can't return back into the court and we will discuss the matter further.

Thank you.

At 5:32 p.m., less than 30 minutes after the supplemental charge, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict. On appeal, the Kentucky appellate courts affirmed petitioner's conviction.

In Allen, the Supreme Court approved a supplemental charge to the effect

that in a large proportion of cases absolute certainty could not be expected; that although the verdict must be the verdict of each individual juror, and not a mere acquiescence in the conclusion of his fellows, yet they should examine the question submitted with candor and with a proper regard and deference to the opinions of each other; that it was their duty to decide the case if they could conscientiously do so; that they should listen, with a disposition to be convinced, to each other's arguments; that, if much the larger number were for conviction, a dissenting juror should consider whether his doubt was a reasonable one which made no impression upon the minds of so many men, equally honest, equally intelligent with himself. If, upon the other hand, the majority was for acquittal, the minority ought to ask themselves whether they might not reasonably doubt the correctness of a judgment which was not concurred in by the majority.

Allen, 164 U.S. at 501, 17 S.Ct. at 157. In United States v. Scott, 547 F.2d 334 (6th Cir.1977), this court recognized the usefulness of Allen charges. It noted, however, that variations from the charge approved in Allen "imperil[ ] the validity of the trial." Id. at 337. While this requirement that federal trial courts "hew closely to the language used in the original Allen charge" is justified as an exercise of this court's supervisory powers to avoid the difficult "task of weighing the prejudicial impact of a variation of the approved charge," id. at 336-37 (quoting United States v. Flannery, 451 F.2d 880, 883 (1st Cir.1971)); see Salemme v. Ristaino, 587 F.2d 81, 89 (1st Cir.1978), that task must be confronted in a case such as this arising in the state courts, see id. The appropriate constitutional inquiry asks whether "in its context and under all the circumstances" the Allen charge was "coercive." Jenkins v. United States, 380 U.S. 445, 446, 85 S.Ct. 1059, 1060, 13 L.Ed.2d 957 (1965) (per curiam); see Jones v. Norvell, 472 F.2d 1185, 1186 (6th Cir.) (per curiam), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 986, 93 S.Ct. 2275, 36 L.Ed.2d 964 (1973). "The speed with which a jury may reach a verdict following the giving of the charge cannot be considered" in determining whether the charge was coercive. United States v. Giacalone, 588 F.2d 1158, 1168 (6th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 944, 99 S.Ct. 2162, 60 L.Ed.2d 1045 (1979). 2

The Allen charge in this case, while less than ideal, nevertheless was not under the totality of the circumstances sufficiently coercive to deprive petitioner of his constitutional rights. In at least one important respect, the Allen charge here was less coercive than the charge approved in Allen itself. In Allen, the trial court had specifically singled out the minority in urging further consideration of the case. A major criticism of the Allen charge focuses on "its potentially coercive effect on minority jurors." Salemme, 587 F.2d at 89. In this case, on the other hand, the trial judge did not single out the minority. He simply urged all the jurors to "consider the opinion and the position of your fellow jurors." The request applied to jurors in the majority as well as those in the minority.

Likewise, the charge given here did not suggest that the jury was required to agree. The trial judge alluded to the possibility that a new jury might be necessary and also told the jury to return to court if agreement could not be reached. This case is therefore distinguishable from Jenkins, in which the Supreme Court disapproved an Allen charge in which the jury was told, "You have got to reach a decision in this case." 380 U.S. at 446, 85 S.Ct. at 1060. The jurors' right to continue disagreeing was implicit in the charge here.

Furthermore, this case does not involve a jury minority that, by virtue of its lengthy service, might be thought particularly susceptible to coercion. The trial of this case took less than a day, and the jury had been deliberating for less than two hours when the Allen charge was given. On the other hand, the trial in Scott spanned four days, and the jury had deliberated over eight hours before the Allen charge was given. 547 F.2d at 335-36. In United States v. Harris, 391 F.2d 348, 351 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 874, 89 S.Ct. 169, 21 L.Ed.2d 145 (1968), over five hours of deliberation took place at the conclusion of a three-day trial before the challenged charge was given.

Petitioner points to three aspects of the charge here to justify issuance of the writ. 3 His arguments derive from this court's rejection of Allen charges in three cases--Jones, Harris, and Scott. 4 Because Harris and Scott involved direct federal criminal appeals, 5 they could be explained as turning on this court's exercise of its supervisory powers over the lower federal courts. See supra pp. 849 - 850. 6 All three cases are otherwise distinguishable as well.

In Scott, as in this case, the trial court's charge did not expressly remind jurors of their continuing right to disagree. The court stated, "The reminder that no juror should merely acquiese in the majority opinion is ... one of the most important parts of the Allen charge." 547 F.2d at 337. The jury in Scott, however, had served considerably longer prior to the Allen charge than had the jury here. See supra pp. 850-51. Unlike this case, the judge in Scott stressed the increased workload for the judge and increased delay for other litigants should the jury be unable to agree. See 547 F.2d at 337-38.

In Jones, a habeas case, this court criticized a state judge's inquiry...

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