Harris v. Rivera
Annotate this Case
454 U.S. 339 (1981)
U.S. Supreme Court
Harris v. Rivera, 454 U.S. 339 (1981)
Harris v. Rivera
Decided December 14, 1981
454 U.S. 339
A New York trial judge, sitting without a jury, convicted respondent and his wife but acquitted their codefendant on charges arising out of a robbery, notwithstanding if the judge had credited the testimony of the prosecution's main witness (the victim), he presumably would have convicted all three defendants or, conversely, if he had credited the testimony of the only defense witness (the codefendant), he presumably would have acquitted all three. Respondent's conviction was affirmed on appeal. His subsequent application in Federal District Court for a writ of habeas corpus was denied. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the New York trial judge had committed constitutional error because he had not explained the apparent inconsistency in his verdicts acquitting the codefendant and convicting respondent. Accordingly, the court ordered the state trial judge either to grant respondent a new trial or to make findings demonstrating a rational basis for the facially inconsistent verdicts.
1. The Court of Appeals erred when, without first determining whether an inconsistent verdict would be unconstitutional, it directed the state trial judge to provide an explanation of the apparent inconsistency in his verdicts. Federal judges have no general supervisory power over state trial judges, and may not require the observance of any special procedures except when necessary to assure compliance with the dictates of the Federal Constitution.
2. An apparent inconsistency in a trial judge's verdict does not give rise to an inference of irregularity in his finding of guilt that is sufficiently strong to overcome the well established presumption that the judge adhered to basic rules of procedure. Here, even assuming that the codefendant's acquittal was logically inconsistent with respondent's conviction, respondent, who was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt after a fair trial, has no constitutional ground to complain that his codefendant was acquitted.
Certiorari granted; 643 F.2d 86, reversed.
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