United States v. Hasting

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Dr. Simopoulos’ Clinic

DOCKET NO.: 81-1463
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 461 US 499 (1983)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1982
DECIDED: May 23, 1983

John F. DePue - on behalf of the Petitioner
Paul V. Esposito - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Hasting

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1982 in United States v. Hasting

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in the United States against Hasting.

John F. DePue:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. DePue.

John F. DePue:

This case presents the question whether a federal appellate court may summarily reverse a conviction because of the prosecutor's improper comment on the defendant's failure to present evidence, without first making an assessment for prejudice under the constitutional harmless error standard.

Briefly summarized, the government's evidence showed that during the early morning of October 11th, 1979, three teenaged girls and a male companion were driving in the vicinity of East St. Louis, Illinois, when their car was forced off the road by five men driving a turquoise Cadillac.

After both cars had come to a halt, the girls were pulled from their car.

One of them was raped.

The men then forced them into the Cadillac, drove them across the interstate boundary into St. Louis, Missouri, where they repeated their sexual assaults at three different locations.

Following the girls' release, one of them led the police to the apartment where she had been taken by her abductors.

There, the officers arrested respondent Stewart and found items of clothing belonging to the victims.

They also located the turquoise Cadillac, learned that it was registered to respondent Williams, and found Williams' latent prints on the car from which the girls had been taken.

These developments also resulted in the apprehension of the remaining respondents, each of whom was identified by at least one of the victims during a lineup the following morning.

At their ensuing trial for rape and a Mann Act violation, each of the victims again identified each respondent as a participant in the abductions.

The defense did not put on the defendants themselves as witnesses.

Instead, their defense was calculated to discredit the girls, their credibility and the accuracy of their identifications by reference to the girls' activities just before and just after the abductions took place.

For example, they elicited testimony from the girls during cross examination that they had been out drinking, in violation of parentally-imposed curfews and that they'd gotten lost on the way home from a tavern.

And that just after the abductions, their initial identifications and descriptions of respondents were not very accurate and were confused.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, that's a fairly standard tactic, isn't it?

How does that bear on the issue here?

John F. DePue:

It bears, Justice Rehnquist, on the argument that we will see that the prosecutor presented subsequently, because we maintain it was a direct reference to what the defendants were actually doing.

In addition, respondents presented witnesses of their own who testified that just before and just after the alleged abductions, the physical appearances of respondents were not at all correspondent with those as described by the victims.

The prosecutor in his summation first discussed the posture of the government's case.

He then turned to respondents' case and he made the following statement, which appears at page 21 of the Joint Appendix.

And I'm going to quote it verbatim from the record because of its centrality to these proceedings.

He said,

"Let's look at the evidence the defendant put on here for you so that we can put that in perspective. "

"I'm going to tell you what the defendant did not do. "

"Defendants on cross examination and-- "

When respondents objected on the ground that they didn't have to testify at all, the prosecutor continued,

"That's right, they don't. "