Bordenkircher v. Hayes

LOCATION: Kentucky Penitentiary

DOCKET NO.: 76-1334
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 434 US 357 (1978)
ARGUED: Nov 09, 1977
DECIDED: Jan 18, 1978

J. Vincent Aprile, II, – Argued the cause for the respondent
Robert L. Chenoweth – Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Paul Lewis Hayes was charged with forgery, an offense which carried a two-to-ten-year prison sentence. During plea negotiations, the prosecutor offered to pursue a five year sentence if Hayes would plead guilty. However, the prosecutor also stated that he would seek an indictment under the Kentucky Habitual Crime Act if the defendant did not register this plea. (Hayes had two prior felony convictions on his record.) If found guilty under this law, Hayes would be imprisoned for life. Hayes did not plead guilty and the prosecutor followed through on his promise.


Does the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause prohibit state prosecutors from carrying out a threat made during plea negotiations to re-indict the accused on more serious charges if he does not plead guilty to the offense with which he was originally charged?

Media for Bordenkircher v. Hayes

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 09, 1977 in Bordenkircher v. Hayes

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 18, 1978 in Bordenkircher v. Hayes

Warren E. Burger:

The judgments and opinion on the court in 76-1334 Bordenkircher against Hayes would be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

This case is here because the grant of petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the respondent, Paul Lewis Hayes was indicted by a grand jury in Kentucky on a charge of uttering a forged instrument, offense then punishable by a term of 2 to 10 years in prison.

After arraignment, Hayes, his retained counsel, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney met in the presence of the Clerk of the Court to discuss a possible plea agreement.

During these conferences the prosecutor offered to recommend a sentence of five years in prison if Hayes would plead guilty to the indictment.

He also said that if Hayes did not plead guilty and in his words, “save the court the inconvenience and necessity of a trial,” he would return to the grand jury to seek an indictment under the Kentucky Habitual Criminal Act, which would subject Hayes to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment by reason of his two prior felony convictions.

Hayes chose not to plead guilty, and the prosecutor did obtain an indictment charging him under the Habitual Criminal Act.

A jury found Hayes guilty on the principal charge of uttering a forged instrument and, in a separate proceeding, further found that he had twice before been convicted of felonies.

As required by the habitual offender statute, he was sentenced to a life term in the penitentiary and these convictions were affirmed on appeal by the – in the Kentucky courts.

On Hayes’ petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky agreed that there had been no constitutional violation in the sentence or the indictment procedure, and denied the writ.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the District Court’s judgment.

We granted certiorari to consider a constitutional question of importance in the administration of criminal justice.

For the reasons set out in the opinion of the court filed today, we reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

There is no doubt that the breadth of discretion that our country’s legal system vests in prosecuting attorneys carries with it the potential for both individual and institutional abuse.

And broad though that discretion may be, there are undoubtedly constitutional limits upon its exercise.

But we hold that the course of conduct engaged in by the prosecutor in this case, which no more than openly presented the defendant with the unpleasant alternatives of forgoing trial or facing charges on which he was plainly subject to prosecution, did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion which Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall have joined and Mr. Justice Powell has also filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Stewart.