Mabry v. Johnson

LOCATION: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

DOCKET NO.: 83-328
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 467 US 504 (1984)
ARGUED: Apr 16, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1984

John Steven Clark - on behalf of the petitioner
Jerrold J. Ganzfried - on behalf of the U.S. as amicus curiae
Richard Quiggle - appointed by this Court

Facts of the case


Media for Mabry v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 16, 1984 in Mabry v. Johnson

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Mabry against Johnson.

Mr. Attorney General, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

John Steven Clark:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the state appears here as a petitioner because of the importance it attaches to the resolution of this case on its merits due to the split in the circuits and that impact on the criminal justice system.

That issue, as we define it, is, is the defendant constitutionally entitled to specific performance of a plea offer once made, then withdrawn, prior to entry of a guilty plea or a showing of detrimental reliance or prejudice.

Byron R. White:

But after his acceptance.

John Steven Clark:

Yes, Your Honor.

I will argue that a better rule of law and a better policy is that specific performance is only constitutionally entitled when that defendant has made a showing of detrimental reliance or prejudice, and that there is an adequate remedy at law, and that a rigid rule, the rigid rule enunciated by the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals below, has the effect of stripping the prosecutor of any discretion, the trial court of any discretion, and perhaps most importantly, creating a constitutional right and a unilateral expectation of the defendant.

Warren E. Burger:

Under Arkansas law, who makes the final decision on sentences?

John Steven Clark:

The trial court, Your Honor.

Warren E. Burger:

And on the acceptance of pleas?

John Steven Clark:

The trial court, Your Honor, would consider the plea offer that was made, and would decide whether it was acceptable and either accept it or not.

Warren E. Burger:

He can reject it if he wishes?

John Steven Clark:

Yes, sir, the trial court may reject the offer.

The facts below briefly are these.

Fourteen years ago, in 1970, the defendant was charged with murder in the first degree, burglary, and assault with intent to kill.

He was convicted on the charge of murder and received life imprisonment.

He was convicted on the charge of burglary and assault with intent to kill and received a sentence of 21 years and 12 years respectively, which were to be served concurrently.

In 1972, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the murder conviction for inadequate jury instruction, and defendant was appointed a counsel.

He was arraigned, and a trial date was set.

Late Friday afternoon, October 27th, 1972, the deputy prosecuting attorney communicated to the defense counsel a plea offer, that offer being, if the defendant would plead guilty to 21 years concurrent to the charge of accessory after felony murder, a plea could be stricken, a recommended plea could be agreed to.

Defense counsel took that offer to the defendant at the penitentiary the next day, and he agreed.

The very next working day, Monday, October 30th, defense counsel communicated to the deputy prosecuting attorney his agreement, and was informed there was a mistake, that the plea recommendation would have to be for a sentence of 21 years consecutive rather than concurrent.

Defense counsel or defendant had no further comment to either the prosecutor or to the court until November the 8th of that year, when the defendant appeared before the court for trial on the charge of murder with a plea of not guilty.

That trial ended in mistrial.

A subsequent date was set.

It was continued, and the in February of 1973, the defendant, in the presence of a jury, withdrew his plea of guilty to the charge of murder in the first degree, entered voluntarily a plea of... excuse me, withdrew his plea of not guilty to murder in the first degree, entered a plea of guilty to the charge of accessory after felony murder, and was sentenced to 21 years consecutively.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

General Clark, is the defendant now released from custody?

John Steven Clark:

Yes, Your Honor.

The defendant is on parole now.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And served how much time?