LOCATION: Long's Vehicle
DOCKET NO.: 81-927
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Connecticut Supreme Court
CITATION: 460 US 73 (1983)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1982
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1983
Jerrold H. Barnett - on behalf of the Respondent
Linda K. Lager - on behalf of the Petitioner
Facts of the case
Media for Connecticut v. JohnsonAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1982 in Connecticut v. Johnson
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 23, 1983 in Connecticut v. Johnson
Harry A. Blackmun:
The second case is No. 81927, Connecticut against Johnson coming to us from the Supreme Court of Connecticut.
There is no majority opinion, so I shall merely state the facts and the result.
In a jury trial in a Connecticut State Court, the respondent, Johnson, was convicted of all charges under a multicount information, including charges of attempted murder and robbery.
The trial court's general instructions to the jury included one to the effect and I quote, "a person's intention may be inferred from his conduct and every person is conclusively presumed to intend the natural and necessary consequences of his act."
While respondent's appeal to the Supreme Court of Connecticut was is pending, this Court decided a case called Sandstrom against Montana which held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated by jury instruction of this kind, because a reasonable juror might have viewed it as creating a conclusive presumption of intent or as shifting the burden of proof as to intent.
Sandstrom however, left open the question whether if a jury is so instructed, the error can ever be harmless.
Thereafter, the Connecticut Supreme Court, while affirming the respondent's convictions on other counts, reversed his convictions for attempted murder and robbery because of the instruction.
Without discussing the State's argument that the Sandstrom violation was harmless, the Court concluded that the conclusive presumption language of the general instructions was not cured by specific instructions on attempted murder and robbery.
The Court affirms that judgment.
I have filed an opinion joined by Justice Brennan, Justice White, and Justice Marshall, whereby we conclude that the instructional error deprived the respondent of his constitutional rights.
Justice Stevens, in a separate opinion, concludes that the writ of certiorari should be dismissed, because however, the vote otherwise was four to four.
He joined the disposition allowing the Connecticut Supreme Court's judgment to stand.
The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion.
Justice Powell also has filed a dissenting opinion and has joined therein by the Chief Justice, Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Justice Blackmun.