Greer v. Miller

LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 85-2064
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 483 US 756 (1987)
ARGUED: Apr 27, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1987

Gary R. Peterson - on behalf of the Respondent
Mark L. Rotert - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Greer v. Miller

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1987 in Greer v. Miller

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in No. 85-2064, Greer against Miller.

Mr. Rotert, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Mark L. Rotert:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Your Honors, the petitioners have raised three issues for consideration by the Court in their briefs, but today I'm only going to discuss the first and the second issue, and I'd like to divide my time roughly equally between the two issues.

First, today, I'd like to discuss the first issue in the brief, and that question is whether or not it is always inappropriate to attempt to apply the standards of Chapman v. California to an asserted violation of due process of law that arose under the rule of Doyle v. Ohio.

And the petitioner's position in this regard may be very succinctly stated.

We believe that it is an oxymoron, and an inherently contradictory statement, to say on the one end that error occurred which was so serious that it rose to the level of a deprivation of due process of law, that is, it rendered the trial fundamentally unfair, but then on the other hand to say, we're now going to analyze that error and determine whether it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

It would appear that the use of terminology that an error rose to the level of creating fundamental unfairness answers the question of whether or not the conviction may stand.

The conviction may not stand in the face of such fundamental unfairness.

Now, there are, in light of that conclusion, two possible results that can obtain when there's been a violation of the rule in Doyle v. Ohio.

I think the first potential result was that apparently accepted by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the majority of the en banc, and also appears to have been accepted by the respondents in this case.

That theory seems to operate on the premise that once a prosecutor utters the language that is condemned under Doyle, that is in this case, once the prosecutor said, why didn't you tell anyone this story when you got arrested, the deprivation of due process is complete.

The violation of fundamental fairness is apparent, and there's no more analysis to be had in the case.

Well, if that were in fact the rule, it would be an unusually harsh rule.

It would read more facts into Doyle than Doyle itself contains.

It would create a rule that was disproportionate to the harm suffered by the defendant.

And it would violate this Court's tradition that due process clause cases are not designed to deter prosecutorial misconduct.

Therefore, we submit that the more appropriate analysis in this case is to examine a violation of the Doyle rule, and to treat that examination in what we might refer to as the traditional due process model.

This would require that a defendant would bear the burden of showing that when the Doyle violation is assessed in the context of the entirety of the trial, that but for the Doyle error, the results of that proceeding would probably have been different.

If a defendant makes such a showing under Doyle v. Ohio--

Antonin Scalia:

Why is that any less logically absurd?

Mark L. Rotert:

--Well, it's very similar to--

Antonin Scalia:

I mean isn't... isn't... you've just told us, once you find a Doyle violation, that's the end of it.

And once you find that there has been a lack of fundamental unfairness, there's been a lack of fundamental unfairness.

It seems to me the logic of your position is that you don't make any kind of a harmless error inquiry.

Mark L. Rotert:

--Well, I don't equate the violation of Doyle rules with a violation of due process such as creates a fundamental unfairness.

I believe if Doyle is read as a case that was decided on the basis of its own unique facts, Doyle makes some implicit assumptions.

One of the implicit assumptions in Doyle is that post-Miranda warning silence were used by the jury to draw negative inferences about defendant Doyle's credibility; that resulted in a breach of the implicit promise of Miranda, and rendered the trial fundamentally unfair.

But by describing Doyle in that fashion, Justice Scalla, I hope I have demonstrated that there are more elements to Doyle than merely looking to see whether the prosecutor commented, in the presence of the jury, on post-Miranda warning silence.

Antonin Scalia:

Oh, well no, I didn't understand that.