United States v. Ewell

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Clarence Ewell and Ronald K. Dennis
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)

CITATION: 383 US 116 (1966)
ARGUED: Nov 18, 1965
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1966

David B. Lockton - by appointment of the Court, 382 U.S. 802, argued the cause for appellee Ewell.
Ralph S. Spritzer - For the United States

Facts of the case

Clarence Ewell and Ronald K. Dennis were indicted on federal narcotics charges in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The men pleaded guilty and were sentenced, but the court vacated the convictions based on an unrelated Seventh Circuit decision that held that an indictment that does not allege the drug purchasers name is invalid. A few months later Ewell and Dennis were rearrested and reindicted on new complaints. The complaints contained the same allegations from the original indictment, but named the drug purchasers. Ewell and Dennis moved to dismiss, arguing that their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and their Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy were violated. The district court rejected the double jeopardy argument, but granted dismissal based on the Sixth Amendment. The Supreme Court heard this case on direct appeal.


Does the Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial require dismissal of the new indictments?

Media for United States v. Ewell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 18, 1965 in United States v. Ewell

Earl Warren:

Number 29, United States, Appellant, versus Clarence Ewell and Ronald K. Dennis.

Mr. Spritzer.

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Mr. Chief Justice, Your Honors.

This is a direct appeal by the United States from two judgments of the District Court for the Southern district to Indiana entered in two criminal cases.

The cases are consolidated in this Court.

To begin with the relevant prior proceedings, in December of 1962, each of the appellees pleaded guilty to a narcotics violation, an offense under Section 4705 of the Revenue Code, the written order formed provision.

Each received at that time the minimum sentence permitted by the statute.

That was 10 years in the case of Ewell and he was a second offender and five years in Dennis’ case.

Some seven months after this conviction in an unrelated case, Lauer against the United States, the Seventh Circuit ruled that an indictment under Section 4705 was defective if it failed to name the purchaser of the narcotics and it held moreover that this defect was cognizable on collateral attack.

Relying upon that decision, Ewell several months after initiated proceedings of his own under Section 2255 and Dennis followed suit.

These motions were promptly heard.

They were granted by the District Court for force on the authority of the Lauer decision and the government at the first grand jury session thereafter procured new indictments against both of the appellees.

Appellees thereupon moved to dismiss these new indictments and on two grounds; one a claim of prior jeopardy and two, a claim that to retry them would deny them a right of speedy trial.

The District Court rejected the claim of prior jeopardy, but it dismissed the indictments on the Sixth Amendment ground and since the orders were based upon a plea in bar the appeal comes directly here.

At no point in the processing of these cases was there any protracted delay.

For convenience, I've asked the clerk to distribute a chart which gives the Court the essential chronology and though I will not take the time to go over the dates here, I think Your Honors will observe that these cases did move with dispatch.

The District Court's opinion, in fact, affirmatively states and I use its language that this is not a case for charges of neglect against the government or the defendant.

The District Court recognized also that the original indictment was sufficient under the law as it stood at the time the indictment was drawn.

Also, I might say parenthetically that it would be sufficient today.

Lauer has been uniformly rejected in all of the other circuits in which the point has been raised and only recently, the Seventh Circuit itself overruled the Lauer position, but what if we assume that there was error as distinguished from oppressive fault of any kind in the government's drafting of the first indictment.

Presumably there is error of some kind in every case in which a judgment of conviction is set aside whether on direct appeal or on collateral attack.

Yet it has never been the law in this country that the correction of error on the defendant's appeal bars a retrial.

By speaking the correction, the defendant is deemed to have waived any claim of prior jeopardy and only recently in the Tateo case, the Court will recall the opinion of the Court observed that this rule serves the interest of defendants generally as well as of the public for otherwise it seems doubtful that appellate courts would be so ready to find error at least in cases where the evidence of guilt was compelling.

Cases like Tateo and many others which we might cite stand equally for the proposition that a retrial does not violate the provisions of the Sixth Amendment.

Time --

Earl Warren:

Are those -- are those cases limited to the identical issue?

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Well in Tateo itself, Your Honor, I think some five years had elapsed between the date of conviction and the date when the Section 2255 case was instituted.

I don't go so far as to suggest or to argue in this case that there could never be circumstances in which a retrial would present a problem under the Sixth Amendment.

Time --

Earl Warren:

I think I probably didn't -- didn't speak correctly.