Sandstrom v. Montana

LOCATION: C and P Telephone Baltimore Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 78-5384
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Montana Supreme Court

CITATION: 442 US 510 (1979)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 18, 1979

Byron W. Boggs - for petitioner
Michael T. Greely - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Sandstrom v. Montana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1979 in Sandstrom v. Montana

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments in Sandstrom against Montana.

Mr. Boggs you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Byron W. Boggs:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The law of this nation has always been at the criminal defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

This Court has ruled at the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause protects the criminal defendant against conviction except upon proof of guilt beyond the reasonable doubt as to each fact necessary to constitute the charge.

The Court has further held at the state carrying this burden may not shift the burden to the defendant such as by presumption.

Warren E. Burger:

That has not prevented the courts generally from holding that the possession -- evidence of the possession of recently stolen property for example permits a jury to draw the inference that the possessor was also the thief, has it?

Byron W. Boggs:

No, Mr. Chief Justice, but there is a difference between permitting a jury to infer and telling them that they are to presume or telling them that the law presumes and the difference is critical to the right for trial by jury upon proof beyond the reasonable doubt.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Boggs, I'm sure that all of us trained as lawyers would probably agree with you that there is a difference between the statement that “you may presume” and “you may infer.”

Do you think the average juror really gets much of a difference between those two sentences?

Byron W. Boggs:

I think that any juror or literate layperson knows the difference between the word “may” and the word “shall” or the difference between the word “may infer” and the phrase “the law presumes.”

I think they know there is a difference.

They might differ as to exactly how they would describe that difference.

But in general the difference between those terms would be a difference significant and at the heart of the reasoning process of a jury.

They may infer, allowing them to reason as you were inviting them to reason.

They shall, or the law presumes phrase prohibiting them from reasoning.

Petitioner was charged with the crime deliberate homicide.

The crime deliberate homicide under Montana law has the element that the defendant shall have caused a death and that he shall have caused that death purposely or knowingly.

And the Montana Supreme Court has said that those terms purposely or knowingly embody the concept (Inaudible).

It stood admitted in the case both by written confession and by myself in open court as petitioner's attorney that there had been a doubt that had resulted as a consequence of the acts of petitioner.

Warren E. Burger:

You don't find any fault with that kind of an instruction in the civil case, I take it although that question is not before us?

Byron W. Boggs:

I would see no fault with the instruction in a civil case Mr. Chief Justice.

However, I would note that the instruction as given in this case would not conform that the federal rules of evidence pertaining to civil trials.

As I read rule 301.2 pertain the civil trials the most that could be instructed under the circumstances of this case was that the jury may infer a presumed fact.

But that is strictly aside from the argument that I present to you which is based on this Court's rulings as to criminal trials and proof beyond the reasonable doubt.

The only question in the case if I may say, the reason where the jury is being invited to the courtroom listen to the evidence was to determine the factual question as to the mental state of the petitioner at the time he engaged in the fatal acts.

The question of whether he had acted purposely or knowingly was fairly raised by the evidence in the written confession which constituted the state's case together with collaborating evidence while admitting that the death had been caused by the petitioner.

In no instance states that he intended to kill her, that he wanted to kill her, that he knew that she was dying.

Not once is the word death mentioned.

The facts of the confession stood as the basis for the opinion from a psychiatrist and a psychologist both of whom examined petitioner and informed opinions concerning his personality, his intelligence and informed opinions as to his mental state at the time of the fatal acts.