Donnelly v. DeChristoforo

LOCATION:Richmond Post Office

DOCKET NO.: 72-1570
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 416 US 637 (1974)
ARGUED: Feb 20, 1974
DECIDED: May 13, 1974

David A. Mills – for petitioner
Paul T. Smith – for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Donnelly v. DeChristoforo

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 20, 1974 in Donnelly v. DeChristoforo

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 13, 1974 in Donnelly v. DeChristoforo

Warren E. Burger:

The disposition in number 72-1570, Donnelly against Dechristoforo will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

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

Respondent Donnelly was tried in Massachusetts State Court for first degree murder.

During the course of his trial, one of Donnelly’s co-defendants elected to plead guilty to a lesser charge and the Trial Judge advised the jury that he had pleaded guilty.

Respondent’s trial then continued.

In the closing argument, the prosecutor made a statement which respondent has contended denied him due process of law.

The prosecutor said they, meaning respondent and his 00:43 said that they hope you find them not guilty.

I quite frankly think that they hope you find him guilty of something a little less than first degree murder.

The Court upon request gave specific instructions to disregard this statement.

Respondent was convicted by the jury and his conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Massachusetts Courts.

Respondent then sought habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court where the writ was denied.

He appealed to the First Circuit which reversed.

That Court reasoned that the prosecutor’s remarks when combined with the guilty plea of respondents co-defendant, would probably have conveyed to the jury a notion that respondent had also sought to enter guilty plea, but he had been refused.

To create this impression, said the Court was a denial of due process.

We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Although the prosecutor’s remark was considered improper by all the courts which passed upon it, we don’t believe that this single, somewhat ambiguous statement when viewed in the context of the entire trial and particularly the instruction from the Trial Judge that the statement was unsupported by any evidence in the record and should be disregarded, denied the respondent due process of law.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a concurring opinion in which Mr. Justice White has joined.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion in Part 2 of which Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall have joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.