Justices of Boston Municipal Court v. Lydon

PETITIONER: Justices of Boston Municipal Court
LOCATION: Franklin County Sheriff

DOCKET NO.: 82-1479
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 294 (1984)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1983
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1984

Barbara Ah Smith - on behalf of the respondent
Barbara A. H. Smith - on behalf of the Petitioners
David Rossman - on behalf of the Respondent
Eric Blumenson - for amici A.C.L.U

Facts of the case


Media for Justices of Boston Municipal Court v. Lydon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1983 in Justices of Boston Municipal Court v. Lydon

So your position is not that a defendant convicted at the bench trial may, without availing himself of a de novo jury trial or any other state remedy, he may not go directly into federal habeas?

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Justices of Boston Municipal Court against Michael Lydon.

Miss Smith, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Barbara Ah Smith:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the Justices of the Boston Municipal Court seek reversal of an order and judgment of the First Circuit Court of Appeals which granted pretrial habeas corpus relief to a state defendant freed upon personal recognizance pending a de novo trial which he had requested.

The Court of Appeals found that the evidence introduced at the initial bench trial was insufficient to support conviction, and therefore held that the double jeopardy clause precluded the de novo trial.

The court ordered that Mr. Lydon be freed from the personal recognizance he was on, that he not be required to answer any summons for trial, and effectively precluded or enjoined the Commonwealth from providing the de novo trial which he had requested.

Since this case arises within the context of the Massachusetts de novo system, I will briefly explain that system.

When charged with a misdemeanor or lesser felony, a defendant at his option may execute a written waiver of his right to a jury trial in the first instance and proceed to a bench trial.

If dissatisfied with the result of that bench trial, his sole remedy is a de novo trial before a six-man jury or a judge and the jury session if he so decides.

By claim--

Warren E. Burger:

But there is an absolute right to the jury, is there not?

Barbara Ah Smith:

--Absolute right to the jury, Your Honor.

By claim of the de novo trial, the bench trial conviction is wiped out, vacated.

All alleged errors of law or fact are rendered immaterial.

The defendant is granted a totally fresh determination of guilt or innocence without any need to demonstrate any error of the law.


Does anything in the proceedings below get into the de novo trial?

Barbara Ah Smith:

--No, Your Honor, it is not a review on the record.

No, but what I was getting at is, suppose he takes the stand at the bench trial, and then he takes the stand at the de novo trial.

I take it his testimony at the bench trial may be used to impeach him.

Barbara Ah Smith:

That's correct, and the defense counsel has the opportunity to use prior inconsistent statements in cross examination of the witnesses.

What is wiped out are errors of law, alleged errors of fact, the conviction, the judgment, and the sentencing.

However, a defendant may also have--

John Paul Stevens:

May I ask just one?

Barbara Ah Smith:


John Paul Stevens:

Is the maximum range of sentencing at the jury trial precisely the same as at the first trial?

Barbara Ah Smith:


The District Court cannot impose a sentence to a house of correction greater than two and a half years or a state prison five years.

John Paul Stevens:

And that is at either stage?

Barbara Ah Smith:

That's right.