United States v. Dunnigan

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Superior Court of the District of Columbia

DOCKET NO.: 91-1300
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 507 US 87 (1993)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1992
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1993

Brent E. Beveridge – on behalf of the Respondent
Paul J. Larkin, Jr. – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Dunnigan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 02, 1992 in United States v. Dunnigan

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 23, 1993 in United States v. Dunnigan

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The second case I have for the court is United States versus Dunnigan.

The case is a criminal case that comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The respondent, Sharon Dunnigan was charged in a single count indictment with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

At trial, the government’s case and chief consisted of five witnesses, each of whom implicated the respondent as a participant in a cocaine’s conspiracy during the summer of 1988.

The respondent, Dunnigan then elected to take a stand and she was a sole witness in her defense.

She denied all the criminal acts attributed to her.

On cross-examination, the government had even a further witness ready.

They examined Dunnigan to ask whther or not, Edward Dickerson had ever bought cocaine from her and Dunnigan denied that.

The defense rested and then government then called Dickerson, who then became the six witness for the government.

He testified the purchasing of cocaine from respondent in a transaction monitored by law enforcement officials and the respondent was convicted.

The jury found her guilty.

At sentencing, the District Court increased respondent’s offence level by two levels for willfully obstructing or impending justice under sensencing guidelines 3C1.1.

The District Court found that by virtue of the respondent’s failure to give truthful testimony on material matters that were designed to substantially affect the outcome of the case.

An enhancement for obstructing justice rewarded.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed according that a 3C1.1 enhancement based on defendant’s alleged perjury at trial would be unconstitutional.

The court ruled that with an automatic enhancement, enhanced and added to the other incentives for defendant not to testify, the defendant may not think testifying worth the risk.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the Court of Appeals.

Now, both parties assumed that the 3C1’s phrase impede or obstruct the administration of justice covers perjury, and the comment to that section is explicit in self providing.

In determining what constitutes perjury, we rely upon the definition found in the federal perjury statute.

The witness testifying under oath, violates the statute.

If she gives false testimony concerning the material matter with the willful intent to provide false testimony rather than as a result of confusion or mistake or faulty memory because not every accused to testifies at trial and is convicted commits perjury.

If the accused objects to a sense enhancement resulting from his trial testimony, District Court must as it did here review the evidence and make independent findings necessary to satisfy the perjury definition we have set out.

On turning to the contention that we enhance sentenced for perjury undermines the right to testify, we reject that argument.

The requirement the District Court make independent findings at perjury, dispels any concern.

The courts will enhance sentences as a matter of course.

And as to the risk of incorrect findings at perjury, that risk is inherent and the system which insists on the value of the testimony under oath.

Neither can we accept respondent’s argument, that the enhancement advances only the impermissible sentencing practice of incarcerating for the purpose of saving the government the burden of bringing the separate and subsequent perjury prosecution.

Enhancement is more than a mere surrogate for a perjury prosecution.

It furthers legitimate sentencing goals relating to the principal crime including the goals of retribution and incapacitation.

Our opinion is unanimous.