United States v. Olano

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Olano et al.
LOCATION:An apartment on the North Side

DOCKET NO.: 91-1306
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 507 US 725 (1993)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1992
DECIDED: Apr 26, 1993

Carter G. Phillips – on behalf of the Respondents
Kenneth W. Starr – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Olano

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 09, 1992 in United States v. Olano

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 26, 1993 in United States v. Olano

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in two cases will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O’Connor:

The first is United States versus Olano.

This case comes to the Court on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondents were tried on criminal charges in the District Court.

Fourteen jurors were selected to hear the case.

Two alternate jurors were identified before the jury deliberations begun.

Without objection from the respondents, the District Court judge allowed the alternate jurors to attend the jury deliberations but specifically instructed them not to participate.

The respondents were convicted.

They argued on appeal at the presence of the alternate jurors during the jury deliberations violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 24(c).

Because the respondents had not raised this claim on the District Court, the Court of Appeals applied the plain errors standard of Rule 53(b).

The court found that the violation of Rule 24(c) was indeed the plain error; it vacated the respondent’s convictions.

In the opinion filed today, we clarify the standard for plain error review.

Rule 52(b) provides the Court of Appeals a limited authority to correct forfeited errors such as this:

First, there must indeed be an error, the defendant must not have waived his rights; second, the error must be plain which means clear or obvious; third, the error must affect substantial rights.

Normally, this means the error was prejudicial and normally the defendant must make a specific showing of prejudice.

In addition, the authority granted by Rule 52(b) is discretionary not mandatory.

The Court of Appeals should not exercise that discretion unless the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or the public reputation of the judicial proceedings.

In the case before us, the government concedes that the deviation from Rule 24(c) in letting the alternate set in the jury room was an error and that that error was plain.

However, we find the error did not affect substantial rights.

The presence of the alternate jurors during deliberations, like other intrusions in the jury room, must be analyzed for prejudicial impact.

The respondents have made no specific showing of prejudice and we will not presume prejudice here because the District Court specifically instructed the alternate jurors not to participate.

Thus, the Court of Appeals lack the authority to correct the error.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals accordingly is reversed in the case is remanded.

Justice Kennedy has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justices White and Blackmun.