Carlisle v. United States
Annotate this Case
517 U.S. 416 (1996)
OCTOBER TERM, 1995
CARLISLE v. UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
No. 94-9247. Argued January 16, 1996-Decided April 29, 1996
At his trial on a federal marijuana charge, petitioner filed his motion for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) after the jury returned a guilty verdict and was discharged. The District Court granted the motion even though it was filed one day outside the time limit prescribed by Rule 29(c), which provides, inter alia, that "[i]f the jury returns a verdict of guilty ... , a motion for judgment of acquittal may be made or renewed within 7 days after the jury is discharged or within such further time as the court may fix during the 7-day period." In reversing and remanding for reinstatement of the verdict and for sentencing, the Sixth Circuit held that under Rule 29 a district court has no jurisdiction to grant an untimely motion for judgment of acquittal, or to enter such a judgment sua sponte after submission of the case to the jury.
Held: The District Court had no authority to grant petitioner's motion for judgment of acquittal filed one day outside the Rule 29(c) time limit. Pp.419-433.
(a) The Rules do not permit the granting of an untimely postverdict motion for judgment of acquittal. Rule 29(c)'s text, when read with Rule 45(b)'s statement that "the court may not extend the time for taking any action under Rul[e] 29 ... except to the extent and under the conditions stated in [the Rule]," is plain and unambiguous: If, as in this case, a guilty verdict is returned, a motion for judgment of acquittal must be filed either within seven days of the jury's discharge or within an extended period fixed by the court during that 7-day period. Furthermore, in light of Rule 29(c)'s clarity, petitioner cannot rely either on Rule 2, which requires that ambiguous Rules "be construed to secure simplicity in procedure, fairness in administration and the elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay," or on Rule 57, which allows district courts discretion to regulate practice when there is no controlling law. Pp. 419-425.
(b) This Court rejects petitioner's invocation of courts' "inherent supervisory power" as alternative authority for the District Court's action. Whatever the scope of federal courts' inherent power to formulate procedural rules not specifically required by the Constitution or the Congress, it does not include the power to develop rules that circumvent or conflict with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
See, e. g., Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States, 487 U. S. 250, 254-255. Whether the District Court's action is described as the granting of an untimely motion, or the sua sponte entry of a judgment of acquittal, it contradicted Rule 29(c)'s plain language and effectively annulled the 7-day filing limit. The cautionary principle that the Court will not lightly assume that the Rules mean to depart from established principles does not apply in this case, because prior to the enactment of Rule 29, there was no long, unquestioned power of federal district courts to acquit for insufficient evidence sua sponte, after return of a guilty verdict. Pp. 425-428.
(c) The Court also rejects petitioner's remaining arguments: (1) that the District Court had power to order acquittal in this case under the All Writs Act, 28 U. S. C. § 1651, through the writ of coram nobis; (2) that the failure to allow the District Court to order acquittal would violate the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause; and (3) that prohibiting a district court from granting an acquittal motion filed only one day late will lead to needless appeals and habeas corpus proceedings. pp. 428-430.
(d) The Court rebuts arguments put forward by the dissent, including the proposition that permissive rules do not withdraw pre-existing inherent powers, and the dissent's reliance on this Court's precedents to support the existence of the "inherent power" petitioner invokes. pp. 430-433.
48 F.3d 190, affirmed.
SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and O'CONNOR, SOUTER, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SOUTER, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 434. GINSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which SOUTER and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 434. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KENNEDY, J., joined, post, p. 436.
James A. Christopherson argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Joel R. Myler.
Paul A. Engelmayer argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and David S. Kris.
JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether a district court has authority to grant a postverdict motion for judgment of