Cupp v. Naughten

LOCATION:Royal Machine and Tool Co.

DOCKET NO.: 72-1148
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 414 US 141 (1973)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1973
DECIDED: Dec 04, 1973

John W. Osburn
Ross R. Runkel

Facts of the case


Media for Cupp v. Naughten

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 16, 1973 in Cupp v. Naughten

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 04, 1973 in Cupp v. Naughten

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 72-1148, Cupp against Naughten will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent Naughten was convicted in an Oregon State Court for the crime of armed robbery, and his conviction was upheld by the Oregon Appellate Court.

He then sought federal habeas corpus in the United States District Court in Oregon, was turned on.

He appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and prevailed there.

That court found that a so-called presumption of truthfulness instruction, given at respondent’s trial, had the affect of shifting the burden of proof from the state to him and denied him a fair trial in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The instruction in question read as follows: “Every witness is presumed to speak the truth. This presumption may be overcome by the manner in which the witness testifies, by the nature of his or her testimony, by evidence affecting his or her character, interest, or motives, by contradictory evidence, or by a presumption.”

Along with this instruction, the Trial Court gave lengthy instructions, telling the jury that the burden was on the State to prove respondent’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the respondent was entitled to the benefit of the presumption of innocence.

The Court of Appeals placed a good deal of reliance on the fact that a large number of federal courts of appeals have disapproved this instruction when given by a federal district court in a federal trial.

We do not attach the same weight to this fact or as did the Court of Appeals.

These courts of appeals have supervisory authority over the federal district courts within their jurisdictions.

They have a good deal of latitude to condemn jury instructions given by those courts and to reverse convictions resulting from trials in which those instructions have been given.

But a federal habeas court, reviewing a state conviction, may grant relief only if the asserted errors of constitutional dimension.

We conclude that whatever maybe the shortcomings of this instruction the abstract, when read in the context of the other instructions given by the trial court, it neither shifted the burden of proof to the respondent, no water down the State’s burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Douglas and Mr. Justice Marshall joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.