LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
DOCKET NO.: 02-524
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 538 US 634 (2003)
ARGUED: Apr 21, 2003
DECIDED: May 19, 2003
Arthur A. Busch - Argued the cause for the petitioner
David A. Moran - Argued the cause for the respondent
Jeffrey A. Lamken - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Facts of the case
During Duyonn Vincent's trial, defense counsel moved for a directed verdict of acquittal as to first-degree murder. Subsequently, when the prosecution made a statement on first-degree murder, defense counsel objected, arguing that the court had granted its directed verdict motion and that further prosecution on first-degree murder would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. The judge responded that he had granted the motion but had not directed a verdict. The judge then submitted the first-degree murder charge to the jury, which convicted Vincent on that charge. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the conviction based on the Double Jeopardy Clause. In reversing, the State Supreme Court determined that the trial judge's comments were not sufficiently final to terminate jeopardy. Subsequently, the Federal District Court granted Vincent's federal habeas corpus petition after concluding that continued prosecution for first-degree murder had violated the Double Jeopardy Clause and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
Is a defendant's right against double jeopardy violated when a trial judge grants a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal as to first-degree murder, but does not direct such a verdict to the jury that subsequently convicts the defendant of first-degree murder?
Media for Price v. VincentAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 2003 in Price v. Vincent
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 19, 2003 in Price v. Vincent
William H. Rehnquist:
I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 02-524, Price against Vincent.
The respondent here was tried in Flint, Michigan for what was called open murder.
Meaning that he could be convicted either of first-degree or second-degree murder.
But the clause of the prosecution's case and outside the hearing of the jury, the defense move for a directed verdict of acquittal as to first-degree murder.
The trial judge agreed that second-degree murder would be an appropriate charge.
The prosecutor then asked to make a statement about first-degree murder the following morning and the judge agreed to hear it.
The following morning, when the prosecutor began the statement, the defense counsel objected.
The defense argued that the judge had already granted its motion for a directed verdict as to first-degree murder and the continued prosecution of that charge would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.
The judge said, "Oh, I granted a motion but I have not directed a verdict.
The judge allowed prosecution on the first-degree murder charge to continue and the jury ultimately convicted the respondent on that charge.
The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the conviction saying that continued prosecution for first-degree murder had violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Federal Constitution.
The Michigan Supreme Court in term reversed the Court of Appeals.
It held that the trial judge's comments had not been sufficiently final to terminate jeopardy.
Respondent then notified the Court of a docket sheet entry indicating that the charge of open murder had been amended to second-degree murder, but the Supreme Court of Michigan declined to reconsider its ruling.
So, the respondent then sought a writ of habeas corpus in Federal Court.
Pursuant to a statute called AEDPA which Congress passed in the 90's, a state prisoner is not entitled to federal habeas relief unless he can meet certain requirements.
Here, the parties do not dispute the underlying facts.
Thus, the respondent is not entitled to relief unless he can demonstrate that the State Court's decision of his claim was either contrary to or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals resided this standard but then failed to apply it.
It considered the Double Jeopardy question as an original proposition.
This was wrong.
The Michigan Supreme Court did not apply a legal test contrary to those we have adopted or reached a different outcome than we have done on facts materially indistinguishable from those of this case.
The Court's decision, therefore, was not contrary to our cases.
Nor was the Michigan Supreme Court's decision an unreasonable application of our precedents.
The Michigan Supreme Court identified the applicable cases from our Court, United States versus Martin Linen Supply, Smalis versus Pennsylvania.
It reaffirmed the principles articulated in those cases, but after evaluating the facts of the case, said that the trial judge's comments simply were not sufficiently final to terminate jeopardy.
This was not an objectively unreasonable conclusion.
Indeed, many other courts have refused to find Double Jeopardy violations under very similar circumstances.
Thus, even if we agreed with the Court of Appeals that the Double Jeopardy Clause should prevent continued prosecution under these circumstances.
It was at least reasonable for the State Court to conclude otherwise.