Griffin v. United States
502 U.S. 46

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No. 90-6352. Argued October 7, 1991-Decided December 3,1991

Petitioner Griffin and others were charged in a multiple-object conspiracy.

The evidence introduced at trial implicated Griffin in the first object of the conspiracy but not the second. The District Court nevertheless instructed the jury in a manner that would permit it to return a verdict against Griffin if it found her to have participated in either one of the two objects. The jury returned a general verdict of guilty. The Court of Appeals upheld Griffin's conviction, rejecting the argument that the verdict could not stand because it left in doubt whether the jury had convicted her as to the first or the second object.

Held: Neither the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment nor this Court's precedents require, in a federal prosecution, that a general guilty verdict on a multiple-object conspiracy be set aside if the evidence is inadequate to support conviction as to one of the objects. Pp. 49-60.

(a) The historical practice fails to support Griffin's due process claim, since the rule of criminal procedure applied by the Court of Appeals was a settled feature of the common law. Pp. 49-51.

(b) The precedent governing this case is not Yates v. United States, 354 U. S. 298, which invalidated a general verdict when one of the possible bases of conviction was legally inadequate, but Turner v. United States, 396 U. S. 398, 420, which upheld a general verdict when one of the possible bases of conviction was supported by inadequate evidence. The line between Yates and Turner makes good sense: Jurors are not generally equipped to determine whether a particular theory of conviction is contrary to law, but are well equipped to determine whether the theory is supported by the facts. Although it would generally be preferable to give an instruction removing from the jury's consideration an alternative basis of liability that does not have adequate evidentiary support, the refusal to do so does not provide an independent basis for reversing an otherwise valid conviction. pp. 51-60.

913 F.2d 337, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and WHITE, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post,


p. 60. THOMAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Michael G. Logan argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Deputy Solicitor General Bryson argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Mueller, and Jeffrey P. Minear.

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether, in a federal prosecution, a general guilty verdict on a multiple-object conspiracy charge must be set aside if the evidence is inadequate to support conviction as to one of the objects.


A federal grand jury returned a 23-count indictment against petitioner Diane Griffin and others. Count 20, the only count in which Griffin was named, charged her, Alex Beverly, and Betty McNulty with conspiring to defraud an agency of the Federal Government in violation of 18 U. S. C. § 371, which reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

"If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be [guilty of a crime]."

The unlawful conspiracy was alleged to have had two objects: (1) impairing the efforts of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ascertain income taxes; and (2) impairing the efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to ascertain forfeitable assets.

The evidence introduced at trial implicated Beverly and McNulty in both conspiratorial objects, and petitioner in the

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