Dowling v. United States/Dissent Brennan

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Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL and Justice STEVENS join, dissenting.

At petitioner's trial for bank robbery, the prosecutor introduced the testimony of Vena Henry that petitioner had attempted to rob her in her home approximately two weeks after the bank robbery. Petitioner, however, had already been tried in connection with that incident and had been acquitted of burglary, attempted robbery, assault, and weapons offenses. Because the introduction of this testimony effectively forced petitioner to defend against charges for which he had already been acquitted, the doctrine of criminal collateral estoppel grounded in the Double Jeopardy Clause should have prohibited the Government from introducing the testimony. I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and remand for consideration whether the admission of this testimony was harmless error under the standard enunciated in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24, 87 S.Ct. 824, 828, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967). Therefore, I respectfully dissent.

* "The law 'attaches particular significance to an acquittal.' " United States v. DiFrancesco, 449 U.S. 117, 129, 101 S.Ct. 426, 433, 66 L.Ed.2d 328 (1980) (quoting United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 91, 98 S.Ct. 2187, 2193, 57 L.Ed.2d 65 (1978)). The core protection of the Double Jeopardy Clause attaches to an acquittal and prohibits retrial for the "same offense" after an acquittal. United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co., 430 U.S. 564, 571, 97 S.Ct. 1349, 1354, 51 L.Ed.2d 642 (1977). Two offenses are considered the "same offense" for double jeopardy purposes unless each offense requires proof of a fact that the other does not. Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304, 52 S.Ct. 180, 182, 76 L.Ed. 306 (1932). An acquittal on a greater or lesser included offense, for example, bars prosecution on the other offense. Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 168, 97 S.Ct. 2221, 2226, 53 L.Ed.2d 187 (1977). This protection applies even if the acquittal is based on an "egregiously erroneous foundation." Fong Foo v. United States, 369 U.S. 141, 143, 82 S.Ct. 671, 672, 7 L.Ed.2d 629 (1962) (per curiam ); Sanabria v. United States, 437 U.S. 54, 68-69, 98 S.Ct. 2170, 2180-2181, 57 L.Ed.2d 43 (1978).

According such significance to an acquittal reflects both an institutional interest in preserving the finality of judgments and a strong public interest in protecting individuals against governmental overreaching. See Brown v. Ohio, supra, 432 U.S., at 165, 97 S.Ct., at 2225 ("Where successive prosecutions are at stake, the [Double Jeopardy Clause] serves 'a constitutional policy of finality for the defendant's benefit' ") (quoting United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 479, 91 S.Ct. 547, 554, 27 L.Ed.2d 543 (1971) (plurality opinion)). The overriding concern is that "[t]o permit a second trial after an acquittal, however mistaken the acquittal may have been, would present an unacceptably high risk that the Government, with its vastly superior resources, might wear down the defendant, so that 'even though innocent he may be found guilty.' " Scott, supra, 437 U.S., at 91, 98 S.Ct., at 2193 (quoting Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 188, 78 S.Ct. 221, 223-224, 2 L.Ed.2d 199 (1957)). The rule also protects a defendant against being compelled "to live in a continuous state of anxiety and insecurity" about whether he will be retried and from the "embarrassment, expense and ordeal" of an actual reprosecution. Green, supra, 355 U.S., at 187, 78 S.Ct., at 223.

These concerns are most clearly implicated when the defendant is retried for the "same offense" after an acquittal. In Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970), however, the Court significantly expanded the protection to which a defendant is constitutionally entitled after an acquittal by holding that the Double Jeopardy Clause incorporates the doctrine of criminal collateral estoppel. Id., at 445-446, 90 S.Ct., at 1195-1196. The doctrine of collateral estoppel "means simply that when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit." Id., at 443, 90 S.Ct., at 1194. In a criminal case, collateral estoppel prohibits the Government from relitigating any ultimate facts resolved in the defendant's favor by the prior acquittal. Id., at 445-446, 90 S.Ct., at 1195-1196. Thus, in addition to being protected against retrial for the "same offense," the defendant is protected against prosecution for an offense that requires proof of a fact found in his favor in a prior proceeding.

The question in this case is whether the criminal collateral-estoppel doctrine should apply when the Government seeks to introduce in a subsequent trial evidence relating to another criminal offense for which the defendant has been acquitted. Before a jury can consider facts relating to another criminal offense as proof of an element of the presently charged offense, the jury must conclude by a preponderance of the evidence "that the act occurred and that the defendant was the actor." Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 689, 108 S.Ct. 1496, 1501, 99 L.Ed.2d 771 (1988). To the extent that the prior acquittal of the other offense determined either of those factual issues in the defendant's favor, the introduction of this evidence imposes on the defendant the burden of relitigating those facts and thereby increases the likelihood of an erroneous conviction on the charged offense. Thus, I would extend the collateral-estoppel doctrine to preclude the Government from introducing evidence which relies on facts previously determined in the defendant's favor by an acquittal. [1]

The Court refuses to apply the collateral-estoppel doctrine in this case for two reasons. First, it asserts that petitioner failed to carry his burden of proving that the issue on which he sought to foreclose relitigation was decided in his favor by the first acquittal. More importantly, the Court refuses to apply the collateral-estoppel doctrine when facts underlying a prior acquittal are used as evidence of another offense. Both of the Court's conclusions are inconsistent with the purposes of the collateral-estoppel rule.

The Court first asserts that petitioner did not prove that the issue on which he sought to foreclose relitigation "was actually decided in the first proceeding." Ante, at 350. The Court's summary conclusion that the defendant should bear the burden of proof when invoking the collateral-estoppel doctrine fails to serve the purposes of the doctrine and the Double Jeopardy Clause in general. Since the doctrine serves to protect defendants against governmental overreaching, the Government should bear the burden of proving that the issue it seeks to relitigate was not decided in the defendant's favor by the prior acquittal. As we noted in Ashe, because criminal verdicts are general verdicts, it is usually difficult to determine the precise route of the jury's reasoning and the basis on which the verdict rests. See 397 U.S., at 444, 90 S.Ct., at 1194. By putting the burden on the defendant to prove what issues were "actually decided," the Court essentially denies the protection of collateral estoppel to those defendants who affirmatively contest more than one issue or who put the Government to its burden of proof with respect to all elements of the offense. This result is inconsistent with our admonition in Ashe that an excessively technical approach to collateral estoppel "would, of course, simply amount to a rejection of the rule of collateral estoppel in criminal proceedings, at least in every case where the first judgment was based upon a general verdict of acquittal." Ibid. Indeed, forcing defendants to choose between forgoing the protections of the Double Jeopardy Clause and abandoning the defense of a general denial raises grave due process concerns.

Even assuming that petitioner was properly required to bear the burden of proof, I conclude that petitioner carried it in this case. Vena Henry testified that petitioner had entered her home wearing a mask and carrying a gun but that, after a struggle in which she pulled off the mask, he ran away. There is every reason to believe that the jury rested its verdict on the belief that petitioner was not present in the Henry home. Petitioner was charged with such a wide array of offenses relating to the Henry incident that no other conclusion is "rationally conceivable." Id., at 445, 90 S.Ct., at 1195. For example, if the jury had acquitted petitioner of attempted robbery because he lacked the requisite intent, it would still have found him guilty of a weapons offense. Neither the comments of the trial judge in this trial that petitioner had not "seriously contested" the issue of identity in the Henry trial but had stated a general defense, App. 21, nor the prosecutor's statement in this case that petitioner's codefendant in the Henry trial had admitted being in the house, ibid., provides a sufficient basis on which to conclude that the issue of identity was not resolved in petitioner's favor by the acquittal. [2] Thus, if collateral estoppel applies to the evidentiary use of facts, the Government should not have been allowed to introduce Henry's testimony.

The Court holds, however, that collateral estoppel does not apply when facts previously found in a defendant's favor are later introduced as evidence of a second offense. The Court excepts from the normal rule of criminal collateral estoppel those situations when the jury can consider the facts under a lower standard of proof in the second proceeding than in the first trial. The Court endorses this exception without any consideration of the purposes underlying the collateral-estoppel doctrine; it is not surprising that the Court's holding reflects an unrealistic view of the risks and burdens imposed on the defendant when facts relating to a prior offense for which he has been acquitted are introduced in a subsequent criminal proceeding.

As the Court notes, we have held that an acquittal in a criminal case does not bar subsequent civil forfeiture actions for the same transaction because the acquittal "merely proves the existence of a reasonable doubt as to [the defendant's] guilt." United States v. One Assortment of 89 Firearms, 465 U.S. 354, 361, 104 S.Ct. 1099, 1104, 79 L.Ed.2d 361 (1984); see also One Lot Emerald Cut Stones v. United States, 409 U.S. 232, 235, 93 S.Ct. 489, 492, 34 L.Ed.2d 438 (1972); Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U.S. 391, 397, 58 S.Ct. 630, 632, 82 L.Ed. 917 (1938). However, those forfeiture cases involved civil remedial measures rather than criminal punishment. 89 Firearms, supra, 465 U.S., at 362-366, 104 S.Ct., at 1104-1107; Helvering, supra, 303 U.S., at 397-398, 58 S.Ct., at 632-33. We have never before applied such reasoning to a successive criminal prosecution in which the Government seeks to punish the defendant and hinges that punishment at least in part on a criminal act for which the defendant has been acquitted. [3] Indeed, in Ashe we indicated to the contrary: " 'It is much too late to suggest that [collateral estoppel] is not fully applicable to a former judgment in a criminal case, . . . because the judgment may reflect only a belief that the Government had not met the higher burden of proof exacted in such cases for the Government's evidence as a whole. . . .' " 397 U.S., at 443, 90 S.Ct., at 1194 (quoting United States v. Kramer, 289 F.2d 909, 913 (CA2 1961)). We have always recognized a distinction between governmental action intended to punish and that which is not, see, e.g., United States v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 446-448, 109 S.Ct. 1892, 1901-1902, 104 L.Ed.2d 487 (1989) (Double Jeopardy Clause implicated when civil fine is punitive); United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 746-747, 107 S.Ct. 2095, 2101, 95 L.Ed.2d 697 (1987) (upholding Bail Reform Act of 1984 as regulatory rather than punitive measure). Thus, it would be consistent to hold that the collateral-estoppel doctrine applies in the criminal (or quasi-criminal) context and not in the civil; when the Government seeks to punish a defendant, the concern for fairness is much more acute. [4]

Whenever a defendant is forced to relitigate the facts underlying a prior offense for which he has been acquitted, there is a risk that the jury erroneously will decide that he is guilty of that offense. That risk is heightened because the jury is required to conclude that the defendant committed the prior offense only by a preponderance of the evidence. Cf. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 363, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970) (reasonable-doubt standard "is a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error"). The fact that the prior offense is used as evidence of the presently charged offense raises concerns about the reliability of the jury's ultimate conclusion that the defendant committed the presently charged offense. These concerns stem in large part from the inherent danger of evidence relating to an extrinsic criminal offense. First, "[o]ne of the dangers inherent in the admission of extrinsic offense evidence is that the jury may convict the defendant not for the offense charged but for the extrinsic offense. This danger is particularly great where . . . the extrinsic activity was not the subject of a conviction; the jury may feel the defendant should be punished for that activity even if he is not guilty of the offense charged." United States v. Beechum, 582 F.2d 898, 914 (CA5 1978) (en banc) (citations omitted). Alternatively, there is the danger that the evidence "may lead [the jury] to conclude that, having committed a crime of the type charged, [the defendant] is likely to repeat it." Ibid. Thus, the fact that the defendant is forced to relitigate his participation in a prior criminal offense under a low standard of proof combined with the inherently prejudicial nature of such evidence increases the risk that the jury erroneously will convict the defendant of the presently charged offense.

The Court's only response is that the defendant is free to introduce evidence to rebut the contention that he committed the prior offense. This response, of course, underscores the flaw in the Court's reasoning: introduction of this type of evidence requires the defendant to mount a second defense to an offense for which he has been acquitted. That the facts relating to the prior offense are used only as evidence of another crime does not reduce the burden on the defendant; he is still required to defend against the prior charges. Moreover, because of the significance a jury may place on evidence of a prior criminal offense, presenting a defense against that offense may be as burdensome as defending against the presently charged offense. Finally, since the lower standard of proof makes it easier for the jury to conclude that the defendant committed the prior offense, the defendant is essentially forced to present affirmative evidence to rebut the contention that he committed that offense. [5]

The Court today adds a powerful new weapon to the Government's arsenal. The ability to relitigate the facts relating to an offense for which the defendant has been acquitted benefits the Government because there are many situations in which the defendant will not be able to present a second defense because of the passage of time, the expense, or some other factor. Indeed there is no discernible limit to the Court's rule; the defendant could be forced to relitigate these facts in trial after trial. Moreover, the Court's reasoning appears to extend even further than the facts of this case and seems to allow a prosecutor to rely on a prior criminal offense (despite an acquittal) as evidence in a trial for an offense which is part of the same transaction as the prior offense. For example, a prosecutor could introduce facts relating to a substantive offense as evidence in a trial for conspiracy, even though the defendant had been acquitted of the substantive offense. Cf. Ashe, 397 U.S., at 445, n. 10, 90 S.Ct., at 1195, n. 10 (the question whether collateral estoppel was a constitutional requirement was of little concern until modern statutes gave prosecutors the ability to "spin out a startingly numerous series of offenses from a single alleged criminal transaction"). Indeed, the Court's reasoning could apply even more broadly to justify the introduction of evidence of a prior offense for which the defendant had been acquitted in order to enhance a defendant's sentence under a sentencing scheme that requires proof by less than a reasonable doubt. See, e.g., McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, 91-93, 106 S.Ct. 2411, 2418-2419, 91 L.Ed.2d 67 (1986) (upholding constitutionality of sentencing scheme requiring proof of additional facts by preponderance of evidence). Only by ignoring the principles upon which the collateral-estoppel doctrine is based is it possible for the Court to tip the scales this far in the prosecution's favor.

The Court's holding today deprives an acquitted defendant of his rightful end to the "blight and suspicious aura which surround an accusation that he is guilty of a specific crime." Wingate v. Wainwright, 464 F.2d 209, 215 (CA5 1972). Because the Court's holding is based on a hypertechnical view of an acquittal and reflects a naive view of the defendant's burden in a criminal trial, I respectfully dissent.


^1  The cases often refer to this situation as collateral estoppel with respect to an "evidentiary fact" in order to distinguish it from the situation present in Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970). See, e.g., United States v. Keller, 624 F.2d 1154, 1159 (CA3 1980). In Ashe, the prior acquittal determined facts which were a necessary element of the second offense. 397 U.S., at 445-446, 90 S.Ct., at 1195-1196 (since issue of identity determined in trial for robbery of one victim, collateral estoppel precluded prosecution for robbery of second victim). In this situation, by contrast, the previously litigated facts are introduced only as evidence of an element of another offense.

^2  In fact, in this case, the acquittal alone should have been sufficient to estop the Government from introducing the Henry evidence. Henry's testimony was introduced not as direct proof but as circumstantial evidence that petitioner was also the masked bank robber, because the mask worn by the intruder in Henry's home was not the same as the mask worn by the bank robber. App. 27. Thus, the jury was invited to infer from the fact that petitioner had allegedly once before worn a different mask and carried a gun that he was the masked bank robber. The jury was instructed that it was to consider the testimony only "to the extent that it helps you in determining the identity of the person who committed the [bank robbery]. . . . Mr. Dowling was found not guilty of the crime of robbery in connection with that." Id., at 29. Nothing in the instructions ensured that the jury did not consider the fact that petitioner had worn a mask and carried a gun during a prior attempted robbery as evidence that petitioner was the masked bank robber. Since the acquittal at least determined that petitioner had not committed an attempted robbery, the acquittal should have been enough to preclude the Government from asking the jury to draw that inference.

^3  The Government cites Standefer v. United States, 447 U.S. 10, 100 S.Ct. 1999, 64 L.Ed.2d 689 (1980), as support for its argument that the doctrine of collateral estoppel should not apply to the evidentiary use of facts. In Standefer, the Court held that a defendant could not invoke the acquittal of the principal as a bar to his prosecution as an accomplice. Id., at 24, 100 S.Ct., at 2008. Although the Court noted that collateral estoppel should be applied sparingly against the Government, id., at 22-24, 100 S.Ct., at 2007-2008, the defendant in Standefer had not yet been tried. Thus, the concerns which protect a defendant against relitigation were not implicated. When those concerns are implicated, they outweigh any need to apply collateral estoppel cautiously against the Government.

^4  The higher reasonable-doubt standard is employed in the criminal context to ensure the accuracy of convictions and thereby protect defendants, not to permit introduction of evidence of crimes for which the defendant has been acquitted. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 363, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970). By definition, when the Government fails to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is considered legally innocent. Unlike the majority of the Court, I believe that at least with respect to subsequent criminal prosecutions, "the acquitted defendant is to be treated as innocent and in the interests of fairness and finality made no more to answer for his alleged crime." State v. Wakefield, 278 N.W.2d 307, 308 (Minn.1979). It is ironic that petitioner would have been better off, in his second trial, if he had not been represented by counsel at the first trial and had been convicted because uncounseled convictions may not be used in any capacity in subsequent trials. See Loper v. Beto, 405 U.S. 473, 483, 92 S.Ct. 1014, 1019, 31 L.Ed.2d 374 (1972) (impeachment); United States v. Tucker, 404 U.S. 443, 447, 92 S.Ct. 589, 591, 30 L.Ed.2d 592 (1972) (sentencing enhancement); Burgett v. Texas, 389 U.S. 109, 115, 88 S.Ct. 258, 262, 19 L.Ed.2d 319 (1967) (substantive evidence).

^5  The fact that the trial judge may instruct the jury that the defendant was acquitted does not sufficiently protect the defendant from the need to present evidence. There is no guarantee that the jury will give any weight to the acquittal; the jury may disregard it or even conclude that the first jury made a mistake.

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).