Luce v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 83-912
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 469 US 38 (1984)
ARGUED: Oct 03, 1984
DECIDED: Dec 10, 1984

Bruce M. Kuhlik - on behalf of Respondent
James I. Marcus - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Luce v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 1984 in Luce v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

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

James I. Marcus:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court, the issue presented for review this afternoon is, must the defendant give up his right not to testify in order to preserve his right to appeal an erroneous ruling by the trial court admitting a prior conviction under Rule 609A of the Federal Rules of Evidence?

The context in which this case arose is by way of a motion in limine filed in the United States District Court in Memphis.

In his motion, the defendant firmly indicated a desire to testify in his defense.

The issue was briefed, and the relevant case law cited to the court.

After argument, both the government and defendant moved for a ruling.

The trial court definitively held that a defendant may testify on the issue of flight, absent impeachment by way of the prior conviction.

However, if the defendant were to testify on any substantive issues in the case, the evidence of the prior conviction could then be admitted against him.

The rationale behind the court's ruling was simply that the earlier conviction, first, involved a crime of moral turpitude, and secondly, that it was a felony.

William H. Rehnquist:

You say the trial court definitively held this.

Actually, your client didn't attempt to testify, did he?

James I. Marcus:

He did not.

That is correct, sir.

William H. Rehnquist:

Wouldn't it be better to say the trial court said it then, since the trial court wasn't applying its rule to any particular set of facts that was before it?

James I. Marcus:

The ruling, however, was definitive before the conclusion of the defense case.

William H. Rehnquist:

I don't doubt that it was definitive, but I just thinking holding is not... a holding is... I think of a legal rule applied to specific facts.

I don't doubt that the trial court had finally made up its mind.

James I. Marcus:

After the defendant was convicted, post-trial motions in this matter once again raised the issue of the earlier conviction being improperly admitted as impeachment.

And again, the trial court ruled, this time in a written opinion, that the previous conviction was a felony involving moral turpitude, and therefore would be proper impeachment in this case.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, stating in part that, since the defendant had failed to testify and suffered the impeachment, he could not now complain of error.

In this case, the defendant should not have been required to waive his constitutional right to remain silent in order to preserve a ruling which is patently wrong.

The right to remain silent or to testify is a fundamental right of all defendants.

It is, more importantly, a personal right to each defendant.

It would stretch the doctrine of waiver beyond its limits to suggest that a defendant faced with these facts, that being an erroneous ruling of the trial court, a ruling which certainly will impact on his decision whether or not to take the witness stand to testify, cannot--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

What if the trial court had just declined to rule at all on the motion in limine?

Would that have affected--

James I. Marcus:

--I'm sorry, Justice O'Connor.

I didn't hear the first part of your question.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--What if the trial judge had just declined to rule on the defendant's motion in limine, and had just said well, I don't know if I'll consider this or not, and had just let it ride?

I guess that, in turn, would have affected the defendant's decision whether to testify or not, wouldn't it?