United States v. Frady

PETITIONER:United States

DOCKET NO.: 80-1595
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 456 US 152 (1982)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1981
DECIDED: Apr 05, 1982

Mr. Andrew L. Frey – on behalf of the Petitioner
Daniel M. Schember – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Frady

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 08, 1981 in United States v. Frady

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 05, 1982 in United States v. Frady

Sandra Day O’Connor:

In cause Number 80-1595, United States versus Frady, we have the case on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Respondent, Joseph Frady was convicted by a jury of first degree murder committed in 1963.

He was sentenced to death my electrocution.

On appeal, Frady’s first degree murder conviction was affirmed but his death sentence was overturned and he was resentenced to life in prison.

The respondent initiated the present action by moving in the District Court to have his sentence vacated under Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code.

Frady argued that after his trial and appeal were over, other courts have disapproved portions of the jury instructions that were used in his case.

Frady claimed that the faulty instructions may have led the jury at his trial not to give adequate consideration to the possibility that his crime was only manslaughter rather than premeditated and deliberate murder.

The District Court denied Frady’s motion but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed.

The Court concluded that at least in the light of the later cases decided after Frady’s trial, the jury instructions had been plainly erroneous.

Relying on Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b), the Court vacated Frady’s sentence.

We granted the Government’s petition for a writ of certiorari to decide whether the Court of Appeals properly invoked the “plain error” standard in considering Frady’s belated collateral attack on the sentence.

We now reverse.

We hold that the “plain error” standard was intended for use on direct appeal only and is out of place when a prisoner launches a collateral attack against a criminal conviction, after the judgment has been final and has been affirmed on appeal.

In 1980, when the Court of Appeals applied the “plain error” standard to Frady’s long-delayed Section 2255 motion, it acted as though the clock had been turned back to 1965 when Frady’s case was first before the Court on direct appeal.

In effect, the Court allowed Frady to take a second appeal 15 years after the first was decided.

The proper standard for review of Frady’s motion is the “cause and actual prejudice” standard enunciated by this Court in Wainwright versus Sykes and other cases.

Applying the standard to Frady’s case, despite the use of jury instructions later found to be faulty, we hold that Frady suffered no actual prejudice of the degree sufficient to justify vacating his sentence 19 years after his crime.

We find no risk of fundamental miscarriage of justice in this case and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Justice Brennan has filed a dissent.

Justice Blackmun has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Justice Stevens, who joins the opinion for the Court, has also filed a concurring opinion.

The Chief Justice and Justice Marshall took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice O’Connor.