Lockhart v. Nelson

LOCATION: Sable Communications of California

DOCKET NO.: 87-1277
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 488 US 33 (1988)
ARGUED: Oct 03, 1988
DECIDED: Nov 14, 1988

J. Steven Clark - on behalf of the Petitioner
John Wesley Hall, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Lockhart v. Nelson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 1988 in Lockhart v. Nelson

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll go now to the argument of No. 87-1277, Lockhart against Nelson.

General Clark, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

J. Steven Clark:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the State of Arkansas believes the facts in this case are somewhat simple in that simply what occurred here in our trial courts in Union County was trial error rather than a failure to submit sufficient evidence.

In 1980 the defendant, Johnny Lee Nelson, was charged with burglary, breaking and entering, and misdemeanor theft.

In 1982 he pled guilty to that same charge and agreed to be sentenced by a jury.

Because of the defendant's previous prior convictions my state chose to sentence him as an habitual offender.

The state introduced four prior convictions, one of which included a conviction of assault with intent to rape.

The jury, after hearing the evidence, sentenced the defendant to 20 years as an habitual offender, the minimum sentence under our statute.

The sentence was subsequently upheld by the Arkansas Court of Appeals and by the Supreme Court of the State of Arkansas.

In 1985 Mr. Nelson filed a habeas petition alleging that one of the four convictions upon which the state relied had been pardoned.

The United States District Court asked my office to in fact investigate that fact and we did, and learned that there had been a pardon on the conviction of assault with intent to rape.

The District Court then issued an opinion which held that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendment applied to the State of Arkansas and would bar us from resentencing Mr. Nelson as an habitual offender.

The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

In that order from the District Court and from the Eighth Circuit the State of Arkansas was advised that in fact we either had to retry Mr. Nelson as a burglar, sentencing him to three to twenty years, or to let him go within 60 days.

The state concedes that the Double Jeopardy Clause applies to the sentencing phase of our trial procedure in the instance that that procedure is one in which the state has a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, one in which the state may offer witnesses and the defendant has an opportunity to confront those and cross-examine and offer other testimony.

And so in that instance Bullington standard, as articulated by this Court, we submit and concede applies to that procedure.

William H. Rehnquist:

This is because of the multiple offender aspect?

J. Steven Clark:

Yes, your Honor.

Under our state statute if you are sentenced as an habitual offender, you must give the defendant notice of that but not notice of the prior conviction upon which the state will rely.

So, Mr. Nelson knew that we were going to sentence his, or attempt to sentence him, as an habitual offender.

Yet, I further submit and contend that the District Court in its decision found this case to be like that of a Burks decision of this Court when in fact this case can be distinguished from a Burks decision.

This is not a decision like Burks in which there is an insufficiency of the evidence.

This is a case in which we had trial error that occurred.

That distinction is really based on this analogy, I would offer to this Court.

The burden pushed upon the State of Arkansas was to fill a basket, a basket full of apples.

That was four prior convictions to trigger the Habitual Offender Act in order to let the Jury consider the evidence and determine if in fact the state had made its burden beyond a reasonable doubt.

We attempted to do just that and believed that we had.

We did that in the instance offering four prior felony convictions from the court records.

These were certified copies of commitment orders from the Union County Circuit Court.

When we offered those--