459 U.S. 1162 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

CHASSON v. PONTE , 459 U.S. 1162 (1983)

459 U.S. 1162

Joseph PONTE et al
No. 82-5646

Philip COOMBE, Jr., Superintendent, Eastern New York Correctional Facility
No. 82-5763

Supreme Court of the United States

January 17, 1983

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The petitions for writs of certiorari are denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting from denial of certiorari.

In Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 ( 1979), this Court held that a defendant's right to due process is violated when the trial judge, charging the jury on the issue of criminal intent, instructs the jury to presume that each person intends the natural consequences of his act. We left open the possibility that the impermissible effects of such a jury instruction might be "removed" by other instructions that are "rhetorically inconsistent with a conclusive or burden-shifting presumption." Id., at 518-519, n. 7, n. 7. In each of these cases the trial judge gave an instruction concerning intent that was improperly cast in the form of a mandatory presumption. In each case the Court of Appeals held that the improper instruction was cured by other instructions concerning intent, even though the additional instructions were not rhetorically inconsistent with the improper charge. I would grant certiorari in order to address this misinterpretation of this Court's decision in Sandstrom.

Page 459 U.S. 1162 , 1163

In No. 82-5763, petitioner Edwin Rivera was convicted in state court of first-degree manslaughter and misdemeanor possession of a weapon. The trial judge's instruction concerning intent began with the following statement: "I shall now define intent for you. A person is presumed to intend the natural consequence of his act." This statement is substantively identical to the instruction in Sandstrom which we held improper because "a reasonable juror could have given the presumption conclusive or persuasion-shifting effect." 442 U.S., at 519-57. See id., at 513-54. Accordingly, on collateral review the District Court granted a writ of habeas corpus.

The decision of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversing the District Court cannot be squared with our holding in Sandstrom. The Court of Appeals' conclusion that the charge as a whole was proper rested on the existence of later statements in the charge suggesting that the presumption is permissive, and on boilerplate language concerning the state's burden of proof and the jury's duty to consider all relevant evidence. Conspicuously absent from the lower court's opinion is the conclusion that any of these additional statements were rhetorically inconsistent with the impermissible mandatory presumption language. The reason is clear: the additional instructions reasonably could have been understood by the jury in a manner entirely consistent with the improper mandatory presumption. [Footnote 1] [459 U.S. 1162 , 1164]

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