North Carolina v. Pearce/Concurrence Black

North Carolina v. Pearc Simpson/Concurrence Black
Concurrence by Hugo Black
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United States Supreme Court

395 U.S. 711

State of NORTH CAROLINA et al., Petitioners,  v.  Clifton A. PEARCE. Curtis M. SIMPSON, Warden, Petitioner,

 Argued: Feb. 24, 1969. ---

Mr. Justice BLACK, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

Respondent Pearce was convicted in a North Carolina court of assault with intent to rape and sentenced to serve 12 to 15 years in prison; respondent Rice pleaded guilty to four charges of burglary and was sentenced in an Alabama court to serve a total of 10 years. After having served several years, Pearce was granted a new trial because a confession used against him was held to have been obtained in violation of his constitutional right not to be compelled to be a witness against himself; Rice's conviction was set aside because, although he was indigent, he had not been provided with a court-appointed lawyer at the time he made his guilty plea. Both respondents were retried and again convicted. [1] Rice's sentence was increased to 25 years, and no credit was given for time he had previously served; Pearce was in effect given a sentence of 15 years, but since credit was allowed for the time he had already served, his new sentence was set at eight years.

I agree with the Court that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits the denial of credit for time already served. I also agree with the Court's rejection of respondents' claims that the increased sentences violate the Double Jeopardy and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. It has been settled, as the Court correctly notes, that the double jeopardy provision does not limit the length of the sentence imposed upon reconviction. Nor is there any invidious discrimination in subjecting defendants who have had prior convictions set aside to the same punishment faced by people h o have never been tried at all. Those who have had former convictions set aside must, like all others who have been convicted, be sentenced according to law, and a trial judge will normally conduct a full inquiry into the background, disposition, and prospects for rehabilitation of each defendant in order to set the appropriate sentence. Accordingly, these defendants are not denied equal protection when the State makes no provision for re-evaluation of sentences generally but permits the penalty set after retrials to be whatever penalty the trial judge finds to be appropriate, whether it be higher or lower than the sentence originally set.

The Court goes on, however, to hold that it would be a flagrant violation of due process for a 'state trial court to follow an announced practice of imposing a heavier sentence upon every reconvicted defendant for the explicit purpose of punishing the defendant for his having succeeded in getting his original conviction set aside.' Ante, at 723-724. This means, I take it, that a State cannot permit appeals in criminal cases and at the same time make it a crime for a convicted defendant to take or win an appeal. That would plainly deny due process of law, but not as the Court's opinion implies because the Court believes it to be an 'unfair' practice. In the first place, the very enactment of two statutes side by side, one encouraging and granting appeals and another making it a crime to win an appeal, would be contrary to the very idea of government by law. It would create doubt, ambiguity, and uncertainty, making it impossible for citizens to know which one of the two conflicting laws to follow, and would thus violate one of the first principles of due process. Due process, moreover, is a guarantee that a man should be tried and convicted only in accordance with valid laws of the land. If a conviction is not valid under these laws, statutory and constitutional, a man has been denied due process and has a constitutional right to have the conviction set aside, without being deprived of life, liberty, or property as a result. For these two reasons, I agree that a state law imposing punishment on a defendant for taking a permissible appeal in a criminal case would violate the Due Process Clause, but not because of any supposed 'unfairness.' Since such a law could take effect not only by state legislative enactment but also by state judicial decision, I also agree that it would violate the Constitution for any judge to impose a higher penalty on a defendant solely because he had taken a legally permissible appeal.

On this basis there is a plausible argument for upholding the judgment in No. 418 setting aside the second sentence of respondent Rice, since the District Judge there found it 'shocking' to him that the State offered no evidence to show why it had so greatly increased Rice's punishment-namely, from a 10-year sentence on four burglary charges at the first trial to a 25-year sentence on three burglary charges at the second trial. From these circumstances, the Federal District Judge appeared to find as a fact that the sentencing judge had increased Rice's sentence for the specific purpose of punishing Rice for invoking the lawfully granted post-conviction remedies. Since at this distance we should ordinarily give this finding the benefit of every doubt, I would accept the Federal District Judge's conclusion that the State in this case attempted to punish Rice for lawfully challenging his conviction and would therefore, with some reluctance, affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals in that case. But this provides no basis for affirming the judgment of the Court of Appeals in No. 413, the case involving respondent Pearce. For in that case there is not a line of evidence to support the slightest inference that the trial judge wanted or intended to punish Pearce for seeking post-conviction relief. Indeed the record shows that this trial judge meticulously computed the time Pearce had served in jail in order to give him full credit for that tm e. [2]

The Court justifies affirming the release of Pearce in this language:

'In order to assure the absence of such a motivation, we have concluded that whenever a judge imposes a more severe sentence upon a defendant after a new trial, the reasons for his doing so must affirmatively appear. Those reasons must be based upon objective information concerning identifiable conduct on the part of the defendant occurring after the time of the original sentencing proceeding. And the factual data upon which the increased sentence is based must be made part of the record, so that the constitutional legitimacy of the increased sentence may be fully reviewed on appeal.' Ante, at 726.

Of course nothing in the Due Process Clause grants this Court any such power as it is using here. Punishment based on the impermissible motivation described by the Court is, as I have said, clearly unconstitutional, and courts must of course set aside the punishment if they find, by the normal judicial process of fact-finding, that such a motivation exists. But, beyond this, the courts are not vested with any general power to prescribe particular devices '(i)n order to assure the absence of such a motivation.' Numerous different mechanisms could be thought of, any one of which would serve this function. Yet the Court does not explain why the particular detailed procedure spelled out in this case is constitutionally required, while other remedial devices are not. This is pure legislation if there ever was legislation.

I have no doubt about the power of Congress to enact such legislation under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which reads:

'The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.'

But should Congress enact what the Court has here enacted, a requirement that state courts articulate their reasons for imposing particular sentences, it would still be legislation only, and Congress could repeal it. In fact, since this is only a rule supplementing the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court itself might be willing to accept congressional substitutes for this supposedly 'constitutional' rule which this Court today enacts. So despite the fact that the Court says that the judge's reasons 'must be made part of the record, so that the constitutional legitimacy of the increased sentence may be fully reviewed on appeal,' I remain unconvinced that this Court can legitimately add any additional commands to the Fourteenth or any other Amendment.

Apart from this, the possibility that judicial action will be prompted by impermissible motives is a particularly poor reason for holding that detailed rules of procedure are constitutionally binding in every state and federal prosecution. The danger of improper motivation is of course ever present. A judge might impose a specially severe penalty solely because of a defendant's race, religion, or political views. He might impose a specially severe penalty because a defendant exercised his right to counsel, or insisted on a trial by jury, or even because the defendant refused to admit his guilt and insisted on any particular kind of trial. In all these instances any additional punishment would of course be, for the reasons I have stated, flagrantly unconstitutional. But it has never previously been suggested by this Court that '(i)n order to assure the absence of such a motivation,' this Court could, as a matter of constitutionl law, direct all trial judges to spell out in detail their reasons for setting a particular sentence, making their reasons 'affirmatively appear,' and basing these reasons on 'objective information concerning identifiable conduct.' Nor has this Court ever previously suggested in connection with sentencing that 'the factual data * * * must be made part of the record.' On the contrary, we spelled out in some detail in Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 69 S.Ct. 1079, 93 L.Ed. 1337 (1949), our reasons for refusing to subject the sentencing process to any such limitations, which might hamstring modern penological reforms, and the Court has, until today, continued to reaffirm that decision. See, e.g., Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, 87 S.Ct. 1209, 18 L.Ed.2d 326 (1967). There are many perfectly legitimate reasons that a judge might have for imposing a higher sentence. For instance, take the case of respondent Rice. Without a lawyer, he pleaded guilty to four charges of burglary and received a sentence of only 10 years. Although not shown by the record, what happened is not difficult to see. It is common knowledge that prosecutors frequently trade with defendants and agree to recommend low sentences in return for pleas of guilty. Judges frequently accept such agreements without carefully scrutinizing the record of the defendant. One needs little imagination to infer that Rice's original sentence was the result of precisely such a practice. This explains both the first 10-year sentence and the fact that, after a full trial and examination of the entire record, the trial judge concluded that a 25-year sentence was called for. The Court's opinion today will-unfortunately, I think, for defendants-throw stumbling blocks in the way of their making similar beneficial agreements in the future. Moreover, the Court's opinion may hereafter cause judges to impose heavier sentences on defendants in order to preserve their lawfully authorized discretion should defendants win reversals of their original convictions.

I would firmly adhere to the Williams principle of leaving judges free to exercise their discretion in sentencing. I would accept the finding of fact made by the Federal District Judge in No. 418, that the higher sentence imposed on respondent Rice was motivated by constitutionally impermissible considerations. But I would not go further and promulgate detailed rules of procedure as a matter of constitutional law, and since there is no finding of actually improper motivation in No. 413, I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals in that case and reinstate the second sentence imposed upon respondent Pearce.

One last thought. There are some who say that there is nothing but a semantic difference between my view-that the Due Process Clause guarantees only that persons must be tried pursuant to the Constitution and laws passed under it-and the opposing view that the Constitution grants judges power to decide constitutionality on the basis of their own concepts of fairness, justice, or 'the Anglo-American legal heritage.' Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337, at 343, 89 S.Ct. 1820, at 1823, 23 L.Ed.2d 349 (Harlan, J., concurring). But in this case and elsewhere, as I see it, the difference between these views comes to nothing less than the difference between what the Constitution says and means and what the judges from day to day, generation to generation, and century to century, decide is fairest and best for the people. Deciding that an ambiguous or self-contradictory law violates due process is a far cry from holding that a law violates due process because it is 'unfair' or 'shocking' to a judge or violates 'the Anglo-American legal heritage.' A due process criminal trial means a trial in a court, with an independent judge lawfully selected, a jury, a defendant's lawyer if the defendant wants one, a court with power to issue compulsory process for witnesses, and with all the other guarantees provided by the Constitution and valid laws passed pursuant to it. See,e .g., Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 235 237, 240-241, 60 S.Ct. 472, 478-479, 84 L.Ed. 716 (1940); United States ex rel. Toth v. Quarles, 350 U.S. 11, 76 S.Ct. 1, 100 L.Ed. 8 (1955). That is the difference for me between our Constitution as written by the Founders and an unwritten constitution to be formulated by judges according to their ideas of fairness on a case-by-case basis. I therefore must dissent from affirmance of the judgment in the case of respondent Pearce.


  1. At Rice's second trial one of the four charges originally pressed against him was dropped, and he was tried only on the remaining three.
  2. At the time of sentencing after Pearce's second trial, the judge stated:

'It is the intention of this Court to give the defendant a sentence of fifteen years in the State Prison; however, it appears to the Court from the records available from the Prison Department that the defendant has served 6 years, 6 months and 17 days flat and gain time combined, and the Court in passing sentence in this case is taking into consideration the time already served by the defendant. IT IS THE JUDGMENT of this Court that the defendant be confined to the State's Prison for a period of eight years.'

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).