Austin v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the Case

“Defendant Bernard Austin was seen in the company of the deceased, Nettie Scott, for some period of time on the night in question. They were drinking together at an afterhours establishment, where Defendant bought deceased a sandwich. At about 4 AM, Defendant left the establishment with the deceased, and drove off in his truck. At approximately 5 AM, two policemen saw Defendant’s truck stopped in a parking bay off the Anacostia Parkway. As they approached to investigate, they noticed some clothing lying on the grass near the truck. At that point, Defendant came up the bank from the river, got in his truck and drove away. Further investigation revealed bloody clothing and a pool of blood in the grassy area near the parking bay. The officers retrieved from the river the mutilated and nearly lifeless body of the deceased, nude except for a piece of clothing around her neck. She died almost immediately. Defendant was apprehended later that morning. Thereafter, Defendant was indicted for murder. The judge charged the jury that “although some time” was required for deliberation, deliberation may be sufficient “though it be of an exceedingly brief duration,” and that the time “may be in the nature of hours, minutes or seconds.” Defendant requested that the time required for deliberation be stated as “some appreciable period of time,” rather than “some period of time” as originally proposed by the judge. The judge declined Defendant’s request. Subsequently, Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder. The jury recommended life imprisonment and Defendant was sentenced accordingly. Defendant challenged the trial court’s charge to the jury contending that the evidence at the close of the government’s case was insufficient to withstand a motion for acquittal of first-degree murder.”


“Is a Louisiana statute prohibiting picketing “near” a courthouse with the intent to obstruct justice unconstitutionally vague so as to violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?Did the police violate Cox’s due process rights by telling him the demonstration was permitted in the place where it was held and then convicting him for acting on that information?”


“Yes. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing for five members of the court, reversed the Eighth Circuit and remanded. The Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment did apply because the forfeiture was a punishment for an offense and did not only serve a remedial purpose. On remand, the Eighth Circuit should consider whether the forfeiture was constitutionally “excessive.”Justice Antonin Scalia concurred in part and concurred in the judgment, writing that the proper question for determining whether the forfeiture is excessive is whether the property had a close enough relationship to the offense, rather than how much the property is worth. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy concurred in part and concurred in the judgment, writing that the majority should not have decided whether in rem forfeitures always amount to a punishment of the owner. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas joined in Kennedy’s opinion.”

Case Information

Citation: 509 US 602 (1993)
Argued: Apr 20, 1993
Decided: Jun 28, 1993
Case Brief: 1993