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Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

490 U.S. 794

Alabama  v.  Smith

No. 88-333  Argued: April 24, 1989. --- Decided: June 12, 1989


An Alabama grand jury indicted respondent for burglary, rape, and sodomy, all related to a single assault. He agreed to plead guilty to the burglary and rape charges in exchange for the State's agreement to dismiss the sodomy charge. The trial judge granted the State's motion to dismiss the sodomy charge, accepted respondent's guilty plea, and sentenced him to concurrent terms of 30 years' imprisonment on each conviction. Later, respondent succeeded in having his guilty plea vacated and went to trial on the three original charges before the same trial judge. The jury found him guilty on all three counts. This time, the judge imposed a term of life imprisonment for the burglary conviction, plus a concurrent term of life imprisonment on the sodomy conviction and a consecutive term of 150 years' imprisonment on the rape conviction. The judge explained that he was imposing a harsher sentence than that imposed following the guilty plea because the evidence presented at trial, of which he had been unaware at the time sentence was imposed on the guilty plea, convinced him that the original sentence had been too lenient. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and the life sentence for burglary and sodomy but remanded the rape conviction for resentencing. The Alabama Supreme Court granted respondent's request for review of the burglary sentence and reversed and remanded, holding that the increased sentence created a presumption of vindictiveness similar to that set forth in North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 89 S.Ct. 2072, 23 L.Ed.2d 656 (1969).

Held: The Pearce presumption of vindictiveness does not apply when a sentence imposed after trial is greater than that previously imposed after a guilty plea. Simpson v. Rice, decided with North Carolina v. Pearce, supra, overruled. Pp. 798-803.

(a) Application of that presumption is limited to circumstances in which there is a "reasonable likelihood" that an unexplained increase in sentence is the product of actual vindictiveness on the part of the sentencing authority. Where there is no such reasonable likelihood, the defendant has the burden of proving actual vindictiveness without aid of a presumption. Pp. 798-800.

(b) In cases like the present one, where the relevant sentencing information available to the judge after a guilty plea will usually be considerably less than that available after a trial, and where leniency that may have been shown in response to a guilty plea is no longer appropriate, there are enough justifications for a heavier second sentence that it cannot be said to be more likely than not that the judge who imposes such a sentence is motivated by vindictiveness. Pp. 800-803.

557 So.2d 13, (Ala., 1988), reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 803.

P. David Bjurberg, Montgomery, Ala., for petitioner.

Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Washington, D.C., for U.S. as amicus curiae, supporting petitioner, by special leave of Court.

Delores R. Boyd, Montgomery, Ala., for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).