James v. Kentucky

LOCATION: Franklin County Sheriff

DOCKET NO.: 82-6840
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Kentucky Supreme Court

CITATION: 466 US 341 (1984)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1984

C. Thomas Hectus - on behalf of the Petitioner
Penny R. Warren - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for James v. Kentucky

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1984 in James v. Kentucky

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in James v. Kentucky.

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

C. Thomas Hectus:

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

This case is here on petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

The issue involved is whether or not the trial court was constitutionally required to admonish the jury that they could draw no adverse inference from petitioner's failure to testify at his state criminal trial.

The Kentucky Supreme Court apparently applied a procedural bar to the relief requested, relying on this court's decision in Carter v. Kentucky that although an instruction was constitutionally compelled, an admonition was not.

Implicitly, the Kentucky Supreme Court also ruled that as a matter of substantive constitutional criminal procedure, that petitioner was not entitled to an admonition regardless of Kentucky evidentiary rules.

Warren E. Burger:

Was there anything to prevent counsel, when the court ruled, to say I intend my motion in the sense of an instruction, an admonition or an instruction, in the alternative, treating them, even though they are not, treating them as though they are synonyms?

C. Thomas Hectus:

Certainly, Mr. Chief Justice, there is nothing requiring counsel from asking for relief in the alternative.

Warren E. Burger:

Nothing preventing him.

C. Thomas Hectus:

Nothing preventing him, and certainly there was nothing preventing the trial court from performing its obligation that once it was put on notice that the defendant wanted some sort of jury guidance, no matter how that jury guidance is phrased, whether as an admonition, an oral, authoritative communication to the jury, or as an instruction in writing containing the law of the case, certainly I think the judge was on notice as to the relief that the defendant wanted.

If he thought it was improper, I think he had fair notice under the Kentucky rules of criminal procedure to go ahead and give the instruction that is also mandated under those same rules upon timely request.

I think that this issue has great importance because of the fact that the petitioner in this case was tried on three separate and distinct charges.

He was tried for receiving stolen property, a handgun that had been stolen from the victim.

He was tried for a subsequent burglary.

And he was also tried for a still later rape, all of the same victim.

Petitioner presented no evidence in his behalf as to either the receiving stolen property or as to the burglary.

He presented only evidence as to his apparent lack of presence at the scene at the time of the rape.

So in other words, at the time this case went to the jury on the receiving stolen property charge, the only thing that the jury had before them was evidence that he was in fact in possession of a handgun which had been stolen.

There was no evidence showing that possession was in any way knowing, and I think in that particular case the absence of the admonition was critical.

As to the burglary, the only evidence of the burglary of May 1, 1981 of the victim's residence linking the petitioner to that residence was one fingerprint on the inside of a door panel at petitioner's apartment.

Warren E. Burger:

Well, when you emphasize one, would it have made any difference if there were eight of them?

C. Thomas Hectus:

I think it would have made a difference depending upon where those fingerprints were.

I think the locations of certain fingerprints are more incriminating than the location of the fingerprint in this case.

In this case the victim testified that petitioner had been in her apartment on several other occasions.

It is not unreasonable to assume that somebody entering or leaving an apartment might leave their fingerprint on the inside of a glass door panel as opposed to, for example, a safe breaking case where a defendant's fingerprints are found on the inside of a safe to which he had no legal or proper access.

I think in this case that fingerprint was certainly neutral as to incriminating the defendant.

The defendant had asked for a severance of that particular charge from the other charges.

That severance was denied, and I think that that is one of the things that the Court should consider in considering the entire context of this case.

We are not merely speaking to petitioner's rape conviction here which was subsequently enhanced in terms of sentencing to a life sentence on the basis of his being a persistent felony offender, which--