Black v. Romano

LOCATION: Board of Education of the City of Oklahoma

DOCKET NO.: 84-465
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 471 US 606 (1985)
ARGUED: Mar 18, 1985
DECIDED: May 20, 1985

Jordan B. Cherrick - appointed by this Court
John M. Morris, III - on behalf of the petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Black v. Romano

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 18, 1985 in Black v. Romano

Warren E. Burger:

We will have arguments now in Black against Romano.

Mr. Morris, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

John M. Morris, III:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the respondent, Nicholas Romano, entered a plea of guilty in November of 1976 to two felony counts of the transfer and sale of a controlled substance.

The record indicates that Romano had sought to trade 26 pounds of marijuana to a person who turned out to be an undercover police officer in exchange for heroin.

In April of 1977, after the preparation of a presentence investigation, a hearing was held before the circuit judge, the state circuit judge who had accepted Romano's guilty plea on the issue of sentence, and at that hearing Romano's attorneys presented testimony and evidence which sought to mitigate the offense and consequently keep Romano out of prison.

After hearing this evidence, the court observed that he had labored with this case, as he had with any in which a person might be sent to prison, and the court also remarked that Romano's past track record was not very good.

Nevertheless, the court said, because this was not a personal crime, a crime against a person, he was inclined to and would grant probation.

So saying the court sentenced Romano to two concurrent terms of 20 years' imprisonment, suspended the execution of those terms, and placed Romano on probation for a term of five years, and at that time indicated to Romano that in all probability when that five years were up he would add a second five-year probation term for a total of ten years' probation on this offense.

Two months after he was placed on probation, a car driven by Romano struck and seriously injured a young man outside the bar where Romano was employed as a bartender.

Romano did not after the accident remain at the scene or identify himself.

Instead, he absconded.

He drove away.

He sought to conceal his car at the home of his employer at the bar, who parenthetically was the only live character witness at his sentencing proceeding.

He stayed out of sight for some eleven or twelve hours, and then finally after that period came to the victim's hospital room and sought to blame the victim for the accident.

At the revocation hearing... the offense of driving while intoxicated under Missouri law is a felony, and revocation proceedings were instituted, and at the revocation hearing, the only issue that was advanced by Romano and his attorneys was whether he was guilty of leaving the scene of an accident.

No contention whatsoever was made by evidence or by argument that if he were guilty, that he should no be and could not be sent to prison.

The state circuit court, the judge who had originally heard his guilty plea and made the decision on the sentence, heard the case, concluded in written findings and conclusions that he had indeed committed this act, and based upon that, stated that his probation was revoked.

Three years after he was incarcerated, Romano filed the first of a series of state and federal--

Thurgood Marshall:

What was the penalty for the crime?

John M. Morris, III:

--You mean the range of punishment, Your Honor?

You mean the range of punishment?

Thurgood Marshall:

Yes, sir.

John M. Morris, III:

The range of punishment for the transfer or sale of controlled substances--

Thurgood Marshall:

No, no, no, no, for the last thing he was convicted of, was charged with, the crime that brought about the revocation.

John M. Morris, III:

--Oh, the penalty for that crime is, I think, in the vicinity of up to five years' imprisonment, Your Honor.

He was not... oh--

Thurgood Marshall:

Five years for leaving the scene?

John M. Morris, III:

--Yes, sir.

Under Missouri law, that is the range of punishment.

If you are asking whether he was convicted of leaving the scene, the answer is--