Victor v. Nebraska

LOCATION: U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute

DOCKET NO.: 92-8894
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: Nebraska Supreme Court

CITATION: 511 US 1 (1994)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1994
DECIDED: Mar 22, 1994

Daniel E. Lungren - on behalf of the Respondent California
Donald B. Stenberg - on behalf of the Respondent Nebraska
Eric S. Multhaup - on behalf of the Petitioner Alfred Arthur Sandoval
Eric S. Multhaup - for petitioner Alfred Arthur Sandoval
Mark A. Weber - on behalf of the Petitioner Clarence Victor

Facts of the case


Media for Victor v. Nebraska

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1994 in Victor v. Nebraska

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 92-8894, Clarence Victor v. Nebraska, Number 92-9049, Alfred Arthur Sandoval v. California, Consolidated.

Mr. Weber.

Mark A. Weber:

Thank you, Mr. Justice... Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue presented in this case is whether the Nebraska supreme court failed to properly apply the constitutional principles set forth in Cage v. Louisiana to a jury instruction in Nebraska containing virtually identical language.

The facts of this case specific to the issue of the reasonable doubt instruction are whether or not the defendant, Clarence Victor, the petitioner, was properly convicted of first degree murder, and whether or not it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Victor killed purposely and with deliberate and premeditated malice.

The responsibility for the death of the victim in this case is not at issue.

With respect to the specific instruction, I feel it is most simple to break it down into two basic parts.

The instruction given in Mr. Victor's trial, NJI 14.08, is found at the Joint Appendix at page 11.

As I see it--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr.... why... ordinarily we say instructions should be considered as a whole.

Why do you feel you should break this down into two parts?

Mark A. Weber:

--Well, I do believe the prior decisions of this Court do warrant looking at the instruction as a whole, but I think the plain meaning of the instruction, also consistent with the prior decisions of this Court, would be to see two basic parts, one being the burden for conviction, the other being the burden for acquittal, and in this particular instruction I see those two parts coming out in the plain meaning given to it.

With respect to that instruction, I would draw a line after the sentence,

"You may find the accused guilty upon the strong probabilities of the case provided such probabilities are strong enough to exclude any doubt of his guilt that is reasonable. "

and I believe the following sentence to the end of that instruction is the burden in order to acquit, and as I've said, I believe the burden to convict in this case similar to in Cage is too low, and the burden to acquit too high.

In this particular instance, with this instruction, a conviction is allowed on the strong probabilities of the case and to a moral certainty, as determined by prior decisions of this Court, of strong probabilities, and I believe the plain meaning of the instruction, that initial part with respect to conviction, the strong probability as read with the other portions of the conviction-related portion of the instruction, allow conviction on something that is tantamount to a civil preponderance of the evidence standard.

William H. Rehnquist:

You say you do agree that this instruction should be read as a whole.

Mark A. Weber:

Yes, I do.

William H. Rehnquist:

And do you think that our decision in Holland v. United States lays down the same standard as was laid down in Cage?

Mark A. Weber:

Well, as recognized, the standard has changed somewhat and specifically with respect to Boyde--

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, but I mean the standard as to the context of the instruction.

Maybe you can't separate them, but Boyde dealt with reasonable understandings.

Mark A. Weber:


William H. Rehnquist:

And other than that, do you think that Holland and Cage lay down the same test?

Mark A. Weber:

I believe so, in the sense that as recognized I believe in Estelle, if not also in... recognized previously in Franklin, there might be a new test when it comes to interpretation of jury instructions and particularly in this case with respect to reasonable doubt.

William H. Rehnquist:

Why would there be a new test in interpreting an instruction on reasonable doubt?

Mark A. Weber:

Well, as you found in... taking Winship in conjunction with Sullivan, just decided by the Court last year, the concept of reasonable doubt and the burden of the Government to prove reasonable doubt, to prove conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, is so fundamental that I believe it would be a recognized exception to basic rules of interpretation.

William H. Rehnquist:

What authority do you have for that proposition?

Mark A. Weber:

Well, again I refer only to Sullivan in the sense that it's such a fundamental guarantee with respect to due process, the fundamental right of trial by jury, and relieving the State of its burden.

I believe you recognized in Sandstrom and in Franklin that relief of the State's burden is a fundamental violation of due process.