Benton v. Maryland

PETITIONER: John Dalmer Benton
LOCATION: Maryland Court of Special Appeals

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 395 US 784 (1969)
ARGUED: Dec 12, 1968
REARGUED: Mar 24, 1969
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1969
GRANTED: Jun 17, 1968

Edward F. Borgerding - argued for Maryland
Francis B. Burch - Attorney General of Maryland, reargued for Maryland
M. Michael Cramer - argued and reargued for the petitioner
Peter L. Strauss - on reargument

Facts of the case

Benton was accused of the burglary and larceny by the ruling of Maryland court, but his guilt was only confirmed for first crime by the jury. The decision approved a 10-years sentence in prison.

But a few time later the State Court of Appeal upheld the order that the provision of Maryland Constitution contravened with the USA constitutional rulings regarding that the jurors must swear to the faith in God before the start to judge the issue. Then Benton obtained the right to new case hearing because his condemnation was decided under the legislative requirement that had been already canceled. The second trial confirmed his guilty of both crimes despite the first one didn`t. His new condemnation was changed to 15 years for the burglary and five years for the larceny.

The plaintiff filed a suit claiming that he was re-indicted of the larceny after being acquitted amounted to double jeopardy. The Maryland Supreme Court ordered, not to apply the concurrent doctrine, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's Palko decision, which stated that the double-jeopardy clause did not extend to cases with the criminal character in the state prosecutions.

The case study reflects that the Maryland constitution had no legal means against double jeopardy. However, the judges found that the Double Jeopardy Clause upheld by the Fifth Amendment should be applied as an element of liberty according to Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The case brief explains that it meant that the appellant condemnation in larceny was canceled by the judgment, his burglary conviction remained under the first ruling.


Did Benton's second indictment, trial, and conviction for larceny violate the Fifth Amendment provision against double jeopardy?

Media for Benton v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - March 24, 1969 in Benton v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1968 in Benton v. Maryland

Earl Warren:

Number 201, John Dalmer Benton, petitioner, versus Maryland.

Mr. Cramer.

M. Michael Cramer:

Thank you, sir.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is before the Court today on a petition for writ of certiorari to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

There are two issues in the case.

Is Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment applicable to the states to the Fourteenth Amendment and, if so, was the petitioner twice put in jeopardy in this case?

The facts of the case, Your Honor, are these.

The State of Maryland, with jurisdiction to do so, indicted the petitioner for three alleged violations of the Maryland Criminal Code: burglary, common law housebreaking, and larceny.

The jury returned an acquittal on the larceny charge.

The state dropped the housebreaking charge.

Jury also convicted the petitioner on the burglary case.

The petitioner then appealed the burglary case to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

And, the Maryland Court of Appeals remanded petitioner's conviction, the only thing before it, to the Trial Court.

So that, the petitioner could elect to have the conviction set aside.

The remand was made on the basis of Schowgurow versus State which held that Maryland's constitutional provision requiring all jurors to profess a belief in God or swear a belief in God was in violation of the First Amendment of the federal constitution.

Petitioner went to the Trial Court again.

He was indicted again for burglary and common law housebreaking.

And, because he sought to exercise his First Amendment rights, he was also indicted for larceny in the second case.

In the first case, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

In the second case, he was convicted this time of both burglary and larceny.

Again, the state dismissed the housebreaking charge.

And, as a result of the second trial, the trial court imposed a sentence of 15 years for burglary, 5 years for larceny, and these terms to be served concurrently.

Prior to the second trial, the petitioner dully entered his objection on a plea of all the fights acquit, but the prosecutor argued to the trial court that the petitioner had to make an election.

Either he could allow the burglary conviction to stand or else, if he voided the burglary conviction, he recreated the indictment against him and could be tried on all charges.

They were prosecuted against him in the original indictment.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But you said he was re-indicted.

M. Michael Cramer:

He was, Your Honor.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

So, he wasn't tried under the original indictment.

That was void, wasn't it, under the Schowgurow case?