BURKS v. UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Argued November 28, 1977
Decided June 14, 1978
Petitioner, in support of his insanity defense to a bank robbery charge, offered expert testimony, and the Government offered expert and lay testimony in rebuttal. Before the case was submitted to the jury, the District Court denied a motion for acquittal. The jury found petitioner guilty as charged, and thereafter his motion for a new trial on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict was denied. The Court of Appeals, holding that the Government had failed to rebut petitioner's proof as to insanity, reversed and remanded to the District Court to determine whether a directed verdict of acquittal should be entered or a new trial ordered, citing, inter alia, as authority for such a remand 28 U.S.C. 2106, which authorizes federal appellate courts to remand a cause and "direct the entry of such appropriate judgment, decree, or order, or require such further proceedings to be had as may be just under the circumstances." Held: The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment precludes a second trial once the reviewing court has found the evidence insufficient to sustain the jury's verdict of guilty, and the only "just" remedy available for that court under 28 U.S.C. 2106 is the entry of a judgment of acquittal. Pp. 5-18.
BURGER, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except BLACKMUN, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Bart C. Durham III argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.
Frank H. Easterbrook argued the cause for the United States pro hac vice. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Friedman, Assistant Attorney General Civiletti, and Michael W. Farrell.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari to resolve the question of whether an accused may be subjected to a second trial when conviction in a prior trial was reversed by an appellate court solely for lack of sufficient evidence to sustain the jury's verdict.
Petitioner Burks was tried in the United States District Court for the crime of robbing a federally insured bank by use of a dangerous weapon, a violation of 18 U.S.C. 2113 (d) (1976 ed.). Burks' principal defense was insanity. To prove this [437 U.S. 1, 3] claim petitioner produced three expert witnesses who testified, albeit with differing diagnoses of his mental condition, that he suffered from a mental illness at the time of the robbery, which rendered him substantially incapable of conforming his conduct to the requirements of the law. In rebuttal the Government offered the testimony of two experts, one of whom testified that although petitioner possessed a character disorder, he was not mentally ill. The other prosecution witness acknowledged a character disorder in petitioner, but gave a rather ambiguous answer to the question of whether Burks had been capable of conforming his conduct to the law. Lay witnesses also testified for the Government, expressing their opinion that petitioner appeared to be capable of normal functioning and was sane at the time of the alleged offense.
Before the case was submitted to the jury, the court denied a motion for a judgment of acquittal. The jury found Burks guilty as charged. Thereafter, he filed a timely motion for a new trial, maintaining, among other things, that "[t]he evidence was insufficient to support the verdict." The motion was denied by the District Court, which concluded that petitioner's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence was "utterly without merit." 1
On appeal petitioner narrowed the issues by admitting the affirmative factual elements of the charge against him, leaving only his claim concerning criminal responsibility to be resolved. With respect to this point, the Court of Appeals agreed with petitioner's claim that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict and reversed his conviction. 547 F.2d 968 (CA6 1976). The court began by noting that "the government has the burden of proving sanity [beyond a reasonable doubt] once a prima facie defense of insanity has been raised." 2 Id., [437 U.S. 1, 4] at 969. Petitioner had met his obligation, the court indicated, by presenting "the specific testimony of three experts with unchallenged credentials." Id., at 970. But the reviewing court went on to hold that the United States had not fulfilled its burden since the prosecution's evidence with respect to Burks' mental condition, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the Government, did not "effectively rebu[t]" petitioner's proof with respect to insanity and criminal responsibility. Ibid. In particular, the witnesses presented by the prosecution failed to "express definite opinions on the precise questions which this Court has identified as critical in cases involving the issue of sanity." Ibid.
At this point, the Court of Appeals, rather than terminating the case against petitioner, remanded to the District Court "for a determination of whether a directed verdict of acquittal should be entered or a new trial ordered." Ibid. Indicating that the District Court should choose the appropriate course "from a balancing of the equities," ibid., the court explicitly adopted the procedures utilized by the Fifth Circuit in United States v. Bass, 490 F.2d 846, 852-853 (1974), "as a guide" to be used on remand:
The United States has not cross-petitioned for certiorari on the question of whether the Court of Appeals was correct in holding that the Government had failed to meet its burden of proof with respect to the claim of insanity. Accordingly, that issue is not open for review here. Given this posture, we are squarely presented with the question of whether a defendant may be tried a second time when a reviewing court has determined that in a prior trial the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdict of the jury. 4
Petitioner's argument is straightforward. He contends that the Court of Appeals' holding was nothing more or less than a decision that the District Court had erred by not granting his motion for a judgment of acquittal. By implication, he argues, the appellate reversal was the operative equivalent of a district court's judgment of acquittal, entered either before or after verdict. Petitioner points out, however, that had the District Court found the evidence at the first trial inadequate, as the Court of Appeals said it should have done, a second trial would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the [437 U.S. 1, 6] Fifth Amendment. Therefore, he maintains, it makes no difference that the determination of evidentiary insufficiency was made by a reviewing court since the double jeopardy considerations are the same, regardless of which court decides that a judgment of acquittal is in order.
The position advanced by petitioner has not been embraced by our prior holdings. Indeed, as the Court of Appeals here recognized, Bryan v. United States, supra, would appear to be contrary. In Bryan the defendant was convicted in the District Court for evasion of federal income tax laws. Bryan had moved for a judgment of acquittal both at the close of the Government's case and when all of the evidence had been presented. After the verdict was returned he renewed these motions, but asked - in the alternative - for a new trial. These motions were all denied. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the specific ground that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdict and remanded the case for a new trial. Certiorari was then granted to determine whether the Court of Appeals had properly ordered a new trial, or whether it should have entered a judgment of acquittal. In affirming the Court of Appeals, this Court decided, first, that the Court of Appeals had statutory authority, under 28 U.S.C. 2106, to direct a new trial. But Bryan had also maintained that notwithstanding 2106 a retrial was prohibited by the Double Jeopardy Clause, a contention which was dismissed in one paragraph:
Concurring in the Sapir judgment, which directed the dismissal of the indictment, Mr. Justice Douglas indicated his basis for reversal:
Three years later in Forman v. United States, 361 U.S. 416 (1960), the Court again treated these questions. There a conviction was reversed by the Court of Appeals due to an improper instruction to the jury, i. e., trial error, as opposed to evidentiary insufficiency. Although the petitioner in Forman had moved both for a new trial and judgment of acquittal, he argued that a new trial would not be appropriate relief since he had requested a judgment of acquittal with respect to the specific trial error on which this Court agreed with the Court of Appeals. Without distinguishing between a reversal due to trial error and reversal resulting solely from evidentiary [437 U.S. 1, 9] insufficiency, this Court held that a new trial did not involve double jeopardy:
The Court's holdings in this area, beginning with Bryan, can hardly be characterized as models of consistency and clarity. Bryan seemingly stood for the proposition that an appellate court could order whatever relief was "appropriate" [437 U.S. 1, 10] or "equitable," regardless of what considerations prompted reversal. A somewhat different course was taken by the concurrence in Sapir, where it was suggested that a reversal for evidentiary insufficiency would require a judgment of acquittal unless the defendant had requested a new trial. Yates, on the contrary, implied that new trials could be ordered to cure prior inadequacies of proof even when the defendant had not so moved. While not completely resolving these ambiguities, Forman suggested that a reviewing court could go beyond the relief requested by a defendant and order a new trial under some circumstances. In discussing Sapir, however, the Forman Court intimated that a different result might follow if the conviction was reversed for evidentiary insufficiency and the defendant had not requested a new trial.
After the Bryan-Forman line of decisions at least one proposition emerged: A defendant who requests a new trial as one avenue of relief may be required to stand trial again, even when his conviction was reversed due to failure of proof at the first trial. Given that petitioner here appealed from a denial of a motion for a new trial - although he had moved for acquittal during trial - our prior cases would seem to indicate that the Court of Appeals had power to remand on the terms it ordered. To reach a different result will require a departure from those holdings.
It is unquestionably true that the Court of Appeals' decision "represente[d] a resolution, correct or not, of some or all of the factual elements of the offense charged." United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co., 430 U.S. 564, 571 (1977). By deciding that the Government had failed to come forward with sufficient proof of petitioner's capacity to be responsible for criminal acts, that court was clearly saying that Burks' criminal culpability had not been established. If the District Court had so held in the first instance, as the reviewing court said it should have done, a judgment of acquittal would have [437 U.S. 1, 11] been entered 5 and, of course, petitioner could not be retried for the same offense. See Fong Foo v. United States, 369 U.S. 141 (1962); Kepner v. United States, 195 U.S. 100 (1904). Consequently, as Mr. Justice Douglas correctly perceived in Sapir, it should make no difference that the reviewing court, rather than the trial court, determined the evidence to be insufficient, see 348 U.S., at 374 . The appellate decision unmistakably meant that the District Court had erred in failing to grant a judgment of acquittal. To hold otherwise would create a purely arbitrary distinction between those in petitioner's position and others who would enjoy the benefit of a correct decision by the District Court. See Sumpter v. DeGroote, 552 F.2d 1206, 1211-1212 (CA7 1977).
The Double Jeopardy Clause forbids a second trial for the purpose of affording the prosecution another opportunity to supply evidence which it failed to muster in the first proceeding. 6 This is central to the objective of the prohibition against successive trials. The Clause does not allow "the State . . . to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense," since "[t]he constitutional prohibition against `double jeopardy' was designed to protect an individual from being subjected to the hazards of trial and possible conviction more than once for an alleged offense." Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187 (1957); see Serfass v. United States, 420 U.S. 377, 387 -388 (1975); United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 479 (1971). [437 U.S. 1, 12]
Nonetheless, as the discussion in Part II, supra, indicates, our past holdings do not appear consistent with what we believe the Double Jeopardy Clause commands. A close reexamination of those precedents, however, persuades us that they have not properly construed the Clause, and accordingly should no longer be followed.
Reconsideration must begin with Bryan v. United States. The brief and somewhat cursory examination of the double jeopardy issue there was limited to stating that "`where the accused successfully seeks review of a conviction, there is no double jeopardy upon a new trial,'" 338 U.S., at 560 , citing Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459, 462 (1947), and Trono v. United States, 199 U.S. 521, 533 -534 (1905). These two cited authorities, which represent the totality of the Court's analysis, add little, if anything, toward resolving the double jeopardy problem presented by Bryan. Resweber involved facts completely unrelated to evidentiary insufficiency. There, in what were admittedly "unusual circumstances," 329 U.S., at 461 , the Court decided that a State would be allowed another chance to carry out the execution of one properly convicted and under sentence of death after an initial attempted electrocution failed due to some mechanical difficulty. In passing, the opinion stated: "But where the accused successfully seeks review of a conviction, there is no double jeopardy upon a new trial. United States v. Ball, 163 U.S. 662, 672 ." Id., at 462. Trono made a similar comment, citing Ball for the proposition that "if the judgment of conviction be reversed on [the defendant's] own appeal, he cannot avail himself of the once-in-jeopardy provision as a bar to a new trial of the offense for which he was convicted." 199 U.S., at 533 -534. 7 [437 U.S. 1, 13]
The common ancestor of these statements in Resweber and Trono, then, is United States v. Ball, which provides a logical starting point for unraveling the conceptual confusion arising from Bryan and the cases which have followed in its wake. This is especially true since Ball appears to represent the first instance in which this Court considered in any detail the double jeopardy implications of an appellate reversal. North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 719 -720 (1969).
Ball came before the Court twice, the first occasion being on writ of error from federal convictions for murder. On this initial review, those defendants who had been found guilty obtained a reversal of their convictions due to a fatally defective indictment. On remand after appeal, the trial court dismissed the flawed indictment and proceeded to retry the defendants on a new indictment. They were again convicted and the defendants came once more to this Court, arguing that their second trial was barred because of former jeopardy. The Court rejected this plea in a brief statement:
We have no doubt that Ball was correct in allowing a new trial to rectify trial error:
Various rationales have been advanced to support the policy of allowing retrial to correct trial error, 9 but in our view the most reasonable justification is that advanced by Tateo, supra, at 466:
The same cannot be said when a defendant's conviction has been overturned due to a failure of proof at trial, in which case the prosecution cannot complain of prejudice, for it has been given one fair opportunity to offer whatever proof it could assemble. 10 Moreover, such an appellate reversal means that the government's case was so lacking that it should not have even been submitted to the jury. Since we necessarily afford absolute finality to a jury's verdict of acquittal - no matter how erroneous its decision - it is difficult to conceive how society has any greater interest in retrying a defendant when, on review, it is decided as a matter of law that the jury could not properly have returned a verdict of guilty.
The importance of a reversal on grounds of evidentiary insufficiency for purposes of inquiry under the Double Jeopardy Clause is underscored by the fact that a federal court's role in deciding whether a case should be considered by the jury is quite limited. Even the trial court, which has heard the testimony of witnesses firsthand, is not to weigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses when it judges the merits of a motion for acquittal. See United States v. Wolfenbarger, 426 F.2d 992, 994 (CA6 1970); United States v. Nelson, 419 F.2d 1237, 1241 (CA9 1969); McClard v. United States, 386 F.2d 495, 497 (CA8 1968); Curley v. United States, 81 U.S. App. D.C. 389, 392, 160 F.2d 229, 232-233, cert. denied, 331 U.S. 837 (1947). The prevailing rule has long been that a district judge is to submit a case to the jury if the evidence and inferences therefrom most favorable to the prosecution would warrant the jury's finding the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. See C. Wright, Federal Practice and [437 U.S. 1, 17] Procedure 467, pp. 259-260 (1969); e. g., Powell v. United States, 135 U.S. App. D.C. 254, 257, 418 F.2d 470, 473 (1969); Crawford v. United States, 126 U.S. App. D.C. 156, 158, 375 F.2d 332, 334 (1967). Obviously a federal appellate court applies no higher a standard; rather, it must sustain the verdict if there is substantial evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the Government, to uphold the jury's decision. See Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942). While this is not the appropriate occasion to re-examine in detail the standards for appellate reversal on grounds of insufficient evidence, it is apparent that such a decision will be confined to cases where the prosecution's failure is clear. 11 Given the requirements for entry of a judgment of acquittal. the purposes of the Clause would be negated were we to afford the government an opportunity for the proverbial "second bite at the apple."
In our view it makes no difference that a defendant has sought a new trial as one of his remedies, or even as the sole remedy. It cannot be meaningfully said that a person "waives" his right to a judgment of acquittal by moving for a new trial. See Green v. United States, 355 U.S., at 191 -198. Moreover, as Forman, 361 U.S., at 425 , has indicated, an appellate court is authorized by 2106 to "go beyond the particular relief sought" in order to provide that relief which [437 U.S. 1, 18] would be "just under the circumstances." Since we hold today that the Double Jeopardy Clause precludes a second trial once the reviewing court has found the evidence legally insufficient, the only "just" remedy available for that court is the direction of a judgment of acquittal. To the extent that our prior decisions suggest that by moving for a new trial, a defendant waives his right to a judgment of acquittal on the basis of evidentiary insufficiency, those cases are overruled.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
[ Footnote 3 ] Title 28 U.S.C. 2106 provides:
[ Footnote 4 ] There is no claim in this case that the trial court committed error by excluding prosecution evidence which, if received, would have rebutted any claim of evidentiary insufficiency.
[ Footnote 5 ] When a district court determines, at the close of either side's case, that the evidence is insufficient, it "shall order the entry of [a] judgment of acquittal . . . ." Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 29; see C. Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure 462, p. 245 (1969).
[ Footnote 6 ] We recognize that under the terms of the remand in this case the District Court might very well conclude, after "a balancing of the equities," that a second trial should not be held. Nonetheless, where the Double Jeopardy Clause is applicable, its sweep is absolute. There are no "equities" to be balanced, for the Clause has declared a constitutional policy, based on grounds which are not open to judicial examination.
[ Footnote 7 ] Trono arose from a murder prosecution in the Philippines. After a nonjury trial the defendants were acquitted of the crime of murder, but were convicted of the lesser included offense of assault. They appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands, which reversed [437 U.S. 1, 13] the judgment and entered convictions for murder, increasing their sentences as well. This Court affirmed, although "it seems apparent that a majority of the Court was unable to agree on any common ground for the conclusion that an appeal of a lesser offense destroyed a defense of a former jeopardy on a greater offense for which the defendant had already been acquitted." Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187 (1957). Green expressly confined the Trono decision to "its peculiar factual setting," namely, an interpretation of a "statutory provision against double jeopardy pertaining to the Philippine Islands." 355 U.S., at 187 ; see Price v. Georgia, 398 U.S. 323, 327 -328, n. 3 (1970).
[ Footnote 8 ] Hopt v. Utah, 120 U.S. 430 (1887), was the last of four appeals by a defendant from a murder conviction in the Territory of Utah. On the first three appeals the convictions were reversed and new trials ordered because of trial errors, e. g., improper instruction, 104 U.S. 631 (1882); absence of the accused during a portion of the trial, improper hearsay testimony received, and prejudicial instruction, 110 U.S. 574 (1884); and inadequate record due to failure to record jury instructions, 114 U.S. 488 (1885). No claim of evidentiary insufficiency was sustained by the Court, and indeed no discussion of double jeopardy appears. Commonwealth v. Gould, 78 Mass. 171 (1858), was a state case in which a defendant was ordered tried on a superseding indictment, after the original indictment had been challenged. Finally, in the English case, Queen v. Drury, 3 Cox Crim. Cas. 544, 175 Eng. Rep. 516 (Q. B. 1849), the defendants had been given an improper sentence after being found guilty at a trial to which no other error was assigned. The court allowed a retrial, saying:
[ Footnote 9 ] It has been suggested, for example, that an appeal from a conviction amounts to a "waiver" of double jeopardy protections, see Trono v. United States, 199 U.S. 521, 533 (1905); but see Green, supra, at 191-198; or that the appeal somehow continues the jeopardy which attached at the first trial, see Price v. Georgia, supra, at 326; but see Breed v. Jones, 421 U.S. 519, 534 (1975).
[ Footnote 10 ] In holding the evidence insufficient to sustain guilt, an appellate court determines that the prosecution has failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. See American Tobacco Co. v. United States, 328 U.S. 781, 787 n. 4 (1946).
[ Footnote 11 ] When the basic issue before the appellate court concerns the sufficiency of the Government's proof of a defendant's sanity (as it did here), a reviewing court should be most wary of disturbing the jury verdict: