Brady v. United States

PETITIONER: Robert M. Brady
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 397 US 742 (1970)
ARGUED: Nov 18, 1969
DECIDED: May 04, 1970
GRANTED: Jun 23, 1969

Joseph J. Connolly - for the respondent
Peter J. Adang - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Robert M. Brady pleaded not guilty to kidnapping. After learning that his codefendant confessed and would be available to testify against him, Brady changed his plea to guilty. The crime had a maximum penalty of death, but a U.S. statute allowed the death penalty only if the verdict of a jury recommends. The judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 30 years. 8 years later, Brady sought relief in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, claiming his guilty plea was not voluntarily given because the possibility of the death penalty coerced his plea. The district court denied relief and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed, finding that Brady changed his plea because of the codefendants actions. The court held that an intervening decision United States v. Jackson, which held the death penalty unconstitutional because it imposes an impermissible burden on an accused’s Fifth Amendment right to not plead guilty and Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, did not apply.


Should United States v. Jackson be applied retroactively to guilty pleas entered prior to that decision?

Did the death penalty needlessly encourage Brady to plead guilty in violation of the Fifth Amendment?

Media for Brady v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 18, 1969 in Brady v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

Brady against the United States.

Mr. Adang, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Peter J. Adang:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

I represent the petitioner Robert M. Brady in the case of Brady against the United States which is on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

This case involves a denial of a motion to vacate sentence made under Title 28 Section 2255 of the United States Code.

I believe that this case presents three issues for resolution by this Court.

These are, first, whether the decision of this Court in the case of United States against Jackson will be given retroactive application to prior guilty pleas under the Kidnapping Act.

Secondly, if the decision is to be given such retroactive application, the question is what test will be formulated to determine when such guilty pleas were involuntary prior to that decision?

And finally, assuming that the Court does make Jackson retroactive as suggested and does formulate an appropriate test, how the facts of the petitioner's case fit within that test?

I would like to depart somewhat from orthodox procedure on oral argument and address myself initially to the first issue which I have mentioned and that is the retroactivity of the Jackson decision.

And the reason I'd like to do this if the Court would allow me is because I feel that this is a question which can and should be determined as an abstract proposition of law without reference to the facts of this case or any particular case for that matter.

Also, I would like to say that at this time that since we only received the Government's answer brief last Monday, we're unable to have an opportunity to file a reply brief and therefore I'd like to try to concentrate on attempting to rebut the arguments which appear in the Government's answer brief.

The Government has taken a position on retroactivity which we feel is essentially a negative argument which as a practical matter would allow very little or possibly even no retroactive application of the Jackson decision.

The Government quite directly points out in its answer brief that there are apparently two underlying purposes for Jackson.

First, to prevent discouragement of guilty pleas and deterrence or encouragement of guilty pleas and discouragement of the exercise of the right to a jury trial and secondly, to stop penalizing those defendants who do assert their constitutional rights to a jury trial and to plea not guilty.

Essentially then, the Government's argument is that we should only apply Jackson retroactively to those cases in which a defendant has pled not guilty and then tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

We of course take the position that the first purpose which we believe is inherent in Jackson should also be given retroactive application and we have brief 3 arguments in support of this contention as alternative arguments for retroactive application of the decision to prior guilty pleas under the Kidnapping Act.

The first of these arguments we believe is that it is implicit from the language of the case itself that it should be given such application retroactively.

This Court held in Jackson that the evil in the selective death penalty provision of the Kidnapping Act was that it tended to discourage assertion of the right to plead not guilty and deter the exercise of the right to a jury trial.

Now, this evil while it wasn't necessarily coercive was held to be needlessly encouraging of guilty pleas and this, the Court said, had a chilling effect upon the exercise of constitutional rights.

That chilling effect being unnecessary was therefore excessive.

We submit therefore that the rationale behind Jackson or the implicit rationale was that if the selective death penalty provision had been allowed to remain in the Kidnapping Act, there would have been a potentiality in the future for involuntary guilty pleas and we submit that if that is recognized, then there has to be a recognition of the implicit corollary and that is that guilty pleas prior to Jackson might also have been involuntary.

And if that presumption is accepted, then I feel that Jackson had to be given retroactive application to prior guilty pleas automatically because this Court has held in the past that involuntary guilty pleas are subject to collateral attack.

Byron R. White:

I realize yours is a federal case, but in your retroactivity argument, do you think whatever rule that is appropriate here is also appropriate as application of Jackson to the states.

Peter J. Adang:

I feel that it is Your Honor.

Assuming that we're talking about a statute with the same kind of a selective death penalty provision --

Byron R. White:

You are not concerned for that I recognized.

Peter J. Adang:

Well, I believe that it should be applicable postulating that we have the same kind of a statute and the same kind of selective death penalty provision, I would submit that it should be applicable to the states.

The Government has made an argument in rebuttal to our contention on retroactivity that when this Court stated in the Jackson decision that not every defendant who pleads guilty under the Kidnapping Act to a capital indictment does so involuntarily.

This Court implicitly rejected any contention that prior guilty plea should be open to collateral attack.