United States v. Nachtigal
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507 U.S. 1 (1993)
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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
OCTOBER TERM, 1992
UNITED STATES v. NACHTIGAL
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 92-609. Decided February 22, 1993
Respondent was charged with operating a motor vehicle in a national park while under the influence of alcohol (DUI), a federal misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. As an alternative to imprisonment, a court may impose a probation term not to exceed five years. Relying on this Court's decision in Blanton v. North Las Vegas, 489 U. S. 538, a Magistrate Judge denied respondent's motion for a jury trial, concluding that DUI's maximum imprisonment term made it presumptively a "petty" offense which is not embraced by the Sixth Amendment's jury trial guarantee, and that the additional penalties did not transform it into a "serious" offense for Sixth Amendment purposes. Respondent was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a fine and one year's probation. The District Court reversed, holding that respondent was entitled to a jury trial under relevant Ninth Circuit precedent. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Blanton was inapposite to respondent's case.
Held: The Court of Appeals erred in refusing to recognize that this case was controlled by the opinion in Blanton rather than its own precedent. Applying the Blanton rule, DUI, with its 6-month maximum prison term established by Congress, is presumptively a petty offense. The additional penalties imposed are not sufficiently severe to overcome this presumption, for neither a fine nor a parole alternative can approximate in severity the loss of liberty that a prison term entails.
Certiorari granted; 953 F.2d 1389, reversed.
Respondent Jerry Nachtigal was charged with operating a motor vehicle in Yosemite National Park while under the influence of alcohol, in violation of 36 CFR §§ 4.23(a)(1) and (a)(2) (1992). Driving under the influence (DVI) is a class B misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment, § 1.3(a); 18 U. S. C. § 3581(b)(7), and a $5,000 fine, §§ 3571(b)(6) and (e). As an alternative to a term of imprisonment, the sentencing court may impose a term of probation not to exceed five years. §§ 3561(a)(3), (b)(2). The sentencing court has discretion to attach a host of discretionary conditions to the probationary term. § 3563(b).
Respondent moved for a jury trial. Applying our decision in Blanton v. North Las Vegas, 489 U. S. 538 (1989), the Magistrate Judge denied the motion. He reasoned that because D VI carries a maximum term of imprisonment of six months, it is presumptively a "petty" offense which is not embraced by the jury trial guaranty of the Sixth Amendment. He rejected respondent's contention that the additional penalties transformed DVI into a "serious" offense for Sixth Amendment purposes. Respondent was then tried by the Magistrate Judge and convicted of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol in violation of 36 CFR § 4.23(a)(1) (1992). He was fined $750 and placed on unsupervised probation for one year.
The District Court reversed the Magistrate Judge on the issue of entitlement to a jury trial, commenting that the language in our opinion in Blanton was "at variance with the Ninth Circuit precedent of United States v. Craner, [652 F. 2d 23 (1981)]," and electing to follow Craner because our opinion in Blanton did not "expressly overrule" Craner. App. to Pet. for Cert. 17a, 20a.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the District Court, holding that Blanton is "[in]apposite," that Craner controls, and that respondent is entitled to a jury trial. App. to Pet. for Cert. 3a-4a, judgt. order re-