David SANDSTROM, Petitioner,
Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented is whether, in a case in which intent is an element of the crime charged, the jury instruction, "the law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts," violates the Fourteenth Amendment's requirement that the State prove every element of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
On November 22, 1976, 18-year-old David Sandstrom confessed to
the slaying of Annie Jessen. Based upon the confession and corroborating
evidence, petitioner was charged on December 2 with "deliberate homicide,"
Mont.Code Ann. § 45-5-102 (1978), in that he "purposely or knowingly
caused the death of Annie Jessen." App. 3. [n. 1] At trial,
Sandstrom's attorney informed the jury that, although his client admitted
killing Jessen, he did not do so "purposely or knowingly," and was therefore
not guilty of "deliberate homicide" but of a lesser crime. Id., at
6-8. The basic support for this contention was the testimony of two
court-appointed mental health experts, each of whom described for the jury
petitioner's mental state at the time of the incident. Sandstrom's attorney
argued that this testimony demonstrated that petitioner, due to a personality
disorder aggravated by alcohol consumption, did not kill Annie Jessen "purposely
or knowingly." [n. 2]
2. Petitioner initially filed a notice of intent to rely on "mental disease or defect excluding criminal responsibility" as a defense. That defense required evidence that defendant was "unable either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law." Mont.Code Ann. § 46-14-101 (1978). The defense was withdrawn at trial, with the petitioner contending that, although he was not "unable" to form the requisite intent, he did not have it at the time of the killing.
Sandstrom appealed to the Supreme Court of Montana, again contending that the instruction shifted to the defendant the burden of disproving an element of the crime charged, in violation of Mullaney v. Wilbur, supra, In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970), and Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977). The Montana court conceded that these cases did prohibit shifting the burden of proof to the defendant by means of a presumption, but held that the cases "do not prohibit allocation of some burden of proof to a defendant under certain circumstances." 176 Mont. 492, 497, 580 P.2d 106, 109 (1978). Since in the court's view, "[d]efendant's sole burden under instruction No. 5 was to produce some evidence that he did not intend the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts, not to disprove that he acted 'purposely' or 'knowingly,' . . . the instruction does not violate due process [p. 514] standards as defined by the United States or Montana Constitution . . . ." Ibid. (emphasis added).
Both federal and state courts have held, under a variety of rationales,
that the giving of an instruction similar to that challenged here is fatal
to the validity of a criminal conviction. [n. 3] We granted certiorari,
439 U.S. 1067, 99 S.Ct. 832, 59 L.Ed.2d 31 (1979), to decide the important
question of the instruction's constitutionality. We reverse.
The threshold inquiry in ascertaining the constitutional analysis applicable to this kind of jury instruction is to determine the nature of the presumption it describes. See Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140, 157-163, 99 S.Ct. 2213, 2224-2227, 60 L.Ed.2d 777 (1979). That determination requires careful attention to the words actually spoken to the jury, see id., at 157-159, n. 16, 99 S.Ct., at 2225, for whether a defendant has been accorded his constitutional rights depends upon the way in which a reasonable juror could have interpreted the instruction.
Respondent argues, first, that the instruction merely described
a permissive inference--that is, it allowed but did not require the jury
to draw conclusions about defendant's intent from his actions--and that
such inferences are constitutional. Brief for Respondent 3, 15.
These arguments need not detain us long, for even respondent admits that
"it's possible" that [p. 515] the jury believed they were required to apply
the presumption. Tr. of Oral Arg. 28. Sandstrom's jurors were
told that "[t]he law presumes that a person intends the ordinary consequences
of his voluntary acts." They were not told that they had a choice,
or that they might infer that conclusion; they were told only that
the law presumed it. It is clear that a reasonable juror could easily
have viewed such an instruction as mandatory. See generally United
States v. Wharton, 139 U.S.App.D.C. 293, 298, 433 F.2d 451, 456 (1970);
Green v. United States, 132 U.S.App.D.C. 98, 99, 405 F.2d 1368, 1369 (1968).
See also Montana Rule of Evidence 301(a). [n. 4]
We need not review respondent's constitutional argument on this
point either, however, for we reject this characterization of the presumption
as well. Respondent concedes there is a "risk" that the jury, once having
found petitioner's act [p. 516] voluntary, would interpret the instruction
as automatically directing a finding of intent. Tr. of Oral Arg.
29. Moreover, the State also concedes that numerous courts "have
differed as to the effect of the presumption when given as a jury instruction
without further explanation as to its use by the jury," and that some have
found it to shift more than the burden of production, and even to have
conclusive effect. Brief for Respondent 17. Nonetheless, the
State contends that the only authoritative reading of the effect of the
presumption resides in the Supreme Court of Montana. And the State
argues that by holding that "[d]efendant's sole burden under instruction
No. 5 was to produce some evidence that he did not intend the ordinary
consequences of his voluntary acts, not to disprove that he acted 'purposely'
or 'knowingly,' " 176 Mont., at 497-498, 580 P.2d at 109 (emphasis added),
the Montana Supreme Court decisively established that the presumption at
most affected only the burden of going forward with evidence of intent--that
is, the burden of production. [n. 5]
First, a reasonable jury could well have interpreted the presumption
as "conclusive," that is, not technically as a presumption at all,
but rather as an irrebuttable direction by the court to find intent once
convinced of the facts triggering the presumption. Alternatively,
the jury may have interpreted the instruction as a direction to find intent
upon proof of the defendant's voluntary actions (and their "ordinary" consequences),
unless the defendant proved the contrary by some quantum of proof which
may well have been considerably greater than "some" evidence--thus effectively
shifting the burden of persuasion on the element of intent. Numerous
federal and state courts have warned that instructions of the type given
here can be interpreted in just these ways. See generally United
States v. Wharton, 139 U.S.App.D.C. 293, 433 F.2d 451 (1970);
Berkovitz v. United States, 213 F.2d 468 (CA5 1954); State v. Roberts,
88 Wash.2d 337, 341-342, 562 P.2d 1259, 1261-1262 (1977) (en banc);
State v. War[p. 518]britton, 211 Kan. 506, 509, 506 P.2d 1152, 1155 (1973);
Hall v. State, 49 Ala.App. 381, 385, 272 So.2d 590, 593 (Crim.App.1973).
See also United States v. Chiantese, 560 F.2d 1244, 1255 (CA5 1977).
And although the Montana Supreme Court held to the contrary in this case,
Montana's own Rules of Evidence expressly state that the presumption at
issue here may be overcome only "by a preponderance of evidence contrary
to the presumption." Montana Rule of Evidence 301(b)(2). [n. 6]
Such a requirement shifts not only the burden of production, but also the
ultimate burden of persuasion on the issue of intent. [n. 7]
* * *
"3. that a person intends the ordinary consequence of his voluntary
Montana Rule of Evidence 301 provides:
"(b)(2) All presumptions, other than conclusive presumptions, are disputable presumptions and may be controverted. A disputable presumption may be overcome by a preponderance of evidence contrary to the presumption. Unless the presumption is overcome, the trier of fact must find the assumed fact in accordance with the presumption." (Emphasis added.)
See also Monaghan v. Standard Motor Co., 96 Mont. 165, 173-174, 29 P.2d 378, 379-380 (1934). At oral argument, the Attorney General of Montana agreed that "admittedly Montana law . . . states that a presumption requires a person to overcome that presumption by a preponderance of evidence." Tr. of Oral Arg. 30.
We do not, of course, cite this Rule of Evidence to dispute the Montana Supreme Court's interpretation of its own law. It merely serves as evidence that a reasonable man--here, apparently, the drafter of Montana's own Rules of Evidence--could interpret the presumption at issue in this case as shifting to the defendant the burden of proving his innocence by a preponderance of the evidence.
7. The potential for these interpretations of the presumption was not removed by the other instructions given at the trial. It is true that the jury was instructed generally that the accused was presumed innocent until proved guilty, and that the State had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant caused the death of the deceased purposely or knowingly. App. 34-35; Brief for Respondent 21. But this is not rhetorically inconsistent with a conclusive or burden-shifting presumption. The jury could have interpreted the two sets of instructions as indicating that the presumption was a means by which proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to intent could be satisfied. For example, if the presumption were viewed as conclusive, the jury could have believed that, although intent must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, proof of the voluntary slaying and its ordinary consequences constituted proof of intent beyond a reasonable doubt. Cf. Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 703 n. 31, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 1892, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975) ("These procedural devices require (in the case of a presumption) . . . the trier of fact to conclude that the prosecution has met its burden of proof with respect to the presumed . . . fact by having satisfactorily established other facts").
9. Another line of our cases also deals with the validity of certain
kinds of presumptions. See Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442 U.S.
140, 99 S.Ct. 2213, 60 L.Ed.2d 777 (1979); Barnes v. United States,
412 U.S. 837, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 37 L.Ed.2d 380 (1973); Turner v. United
States, 396 U.S. 398, 90 S.Ct. 642, 24 L.Ed.2d 610 (1970);
Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 89 S.Ct. 1532, 23 L.Ed.2d 57 (1969);
United States v. Romano, 382 U.S. 136, 86 S.Ct. 279, 15 L.Ed.2d 210 (1965);
United States v. Gainey, 380 U.S. 63, 85 S.Ct. 754, 13 L.Ed.2d 658 (1965);
Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 77 S.Ct. 623, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957);
Tot v. United States, 319 U.S. 463, 63 S.Ct. 1241, 87 L.Ed. 1519 (1943).
These cases did not, however, involve presumptions of the conclusive or
persuasion-shifting variety. See Ulster County Court v. Allen, 442
U.S., at 157, and n. 16, 99 S.Ct., at 2224-2225, and n. 16; and at
169, 99 S.Ct., at 2231 (POWELL, J., dissenting); Mullaney v. Wilbur,
supra, 421 U.S., at 703 n. 31, 95 S.Ct., at 1892 (1975); Leary v.
United States, supra, 395 U.S., at 35, 89 S.Ct., at 1547; Roviaro
v. United States, supra, 353 U.S., at 63, 77 S.Ct., at 629; C. McCormick,
Evidence 831 (2d ed. 1972).
A line of even older cases urged upon us by respondent is equally inapplicable. In Agnew v. United States, 165 U.S. 36, 50, 17 S.Ct 235, 240, 41 L.Ed. 624 (1897), the trial court's instruction expressly stated that the presumption was not conclusive, and this Court found that other problems with the instruction were cured by the charge considered as a whole. The other proffered cases simply involved general comments by the Court upon the validity of presuming intent from action. See Radio Officers v. NLRB, 347 U.S. 17, 45, 74 S.Ct. 323, 338, 98 L.Ed. 455 (1954); Cramer v. United States, 325 U.S. 1, 31, 65 S.Ct. 918, 933, 89 L.Ed. 1441 (1945). See also Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 167, 25 L.Ed. 244 (1879) (religious objection to polygamy law not a defense).
In Winship, this Court stated:
"Lest there remain any doubt about the constitutional stature of the reasonable-doubt standard, we explicitly hold that the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged." Id., at 364, 90 S.Ct. at 1073 (emphasis added).
Accord, Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S., at 210, 97 S.Ct. at 2327. The petitioner here was charged with and convicted of deliberate homicide, committed purposely or knowingly, under Mont.Code Ann. § 45-5- 102(a) (1978). See App. 3, 42. It is clear that under Montana law, whether the crime was committed purposely or knowingly is a fact necessary to constitute the crime of deliberate homicide. [n. 10] Indeed, it was [p. 521] the lone element of the offense at issue in Sandstrom's trial, as he confessed to causing the death of the victim, told the jury that knowledge and purpose were the only questions he was controverting, and introduced evidence solely on those points. App. 6-8. Moreover, it is conceded that proof of defendant's "intent" would be sufficient to establish this element. [n. 11] Thus, the question before this Court is whether the challenged jury instruction had the effect of relieving the State of the burden of proof enunciated in Winship on the critical question of petitioner's state of mind. We conclude that under either of the two possible interpretations of the instruction set out above, precisely that effect would result, and that the instruction therefore represents constitutional error.
11. Respondent agrees that "intent" and "purpose" are roughly synonymous, see also Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary 601 (1974), but contests the relevance of "intent" to "knowledge." See Tr. of Oral Arg. 18; Brief for Respondent 8-9. This problem is discussed in Part IV, infra.
Just last Term, in United States v. United States Gypsum Co.,
438 U.S. 422, 98 S.Ct. 2864, 57 L.Ed.2d 854 (1978), we reaffirmed the holding
of Morissette. In that case defendants, who were charged with criminal
violations of the Sherman Act, challenged the following jury instruction:
"The law presumes that a person intends the necessary and natural consequences of his acts. Therefore, if the effect of the exchanges of pricing information was to raise, fix, maintain and stabilize prices, then the parties to them are presumed, as a matter of law, to have intended that result." 438 U.S., at 430, 98 S.Ct., at 2869.
[p. 523] After again determining that the offense included the element of intent, we held:
"[A] defendant's state of mind or intent is an element of a criminal antitrust offense which . . . cannot be taken from the trier of fact through reliance on a legal presumption of wrongful intent from proof of an effect on prices. Cf. Morissette v. United States . . . .
* * *
"Although an effect on prices may well support an inference that the defendant had knowledge of the probability of such a consequence at the time he acted, the jury must remain free to consider additional evidence before accepting or rejecting the inference. . . . [U]ltimately the decision on the issue of intent must be left to the trier of fact alone. The instruction given invaded this factfinding function." Id., at 435, 446, 98 S.Ct. at 2872, 2878 (emphasis added).
See also Hickory v. United States, 160 U.S. 408, 422, 16 S.Ct. 327, 332, 40 L.Ed. 474 (1896).
As in Morissette and United States Gypsum Co., a conclusive presumption in this case would "conflict with the overriding presumption of innocence with which the law endows the accused and which extends to every element of the crime," and would "invade [the] factfinding function" which in a criminal case the law assigns solely to the jury. The instruction announced to David Sandstrom's jury may well have had exactly these consequences. Upon finding proof of one element of the crime (causing death), and of facts insufficient to establish the second (the voluntariness and "ordinary consequences" of defendant's action), Sandstrom's jurors could reasonably have concluded that they were directed to find against defendant on the element of intent. The State was thus not forced to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt . . . every fact necessary to constitute the crime . . . charged," 397 U.S., at 364, 90 S.Ct. at 1073, and defendant was deprived of his constitutional rights as explicated in Winship.
[p. 524] A presumption which, although not conclusive, had the effect of shifting the burden of persuasion to the defendant, would have suffered from similar infirmities. If Sandstrom's jury interpreted the presumption in that manner, it could have concluded that upon proof by the State of the slaying, and of additional facts not themselves establishing the element of intent, the burden was shifted to the defendant to prove that he lacked the requisite mental state. Such a presumption was found constitutionally deficient in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975). In Mullaney, the charge was murder, which under Maine law required proof not only of intent but of malice. The trial court charged the jury that " 'malice aforethought is an essential and indispensable element of the crime of murder.' " Id., at 686, 95 S.Ct. at 1883. However, it also instructed that if the prosecution established that the homicide was both intentional and unlawful, malice aforethought was to be implied unless the defendant proved by a fair preponderance of the evidence that he acted in the heat of passion on sudden provocation. Ibid. As we recounted just two Terms ago in Patterson v. New York, "[t]his Court . . . unanimously agreed with the Court of Appeals that Wilbur's due process rights had been invaded by the presumption casting upon him the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he had acted in the heat of passion upon sudden provocation." 432 U.S., at 214, 97 S.Ct. at 2329. And Patterson reaffirmed that "a State must prove every ingredient of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt, and . . . may not shift the burden of proof to the defendant" by means of such a presumption. Id., at 215, 97 S.Ct. at 2330.
Because David Sandstrom's jury may have interpreted the judge's instruction as constituting either a burden-shifting presumption like that in Mullaney, or a conclusive presumption like those in Morissette and United States Gypsum Co., and because either interpretation would have deprived defendant of his right to the due process of law, we hold the instruction given in this case unconstitutional.
[p. 525] IV
Respondent has proposed two alternative rationales for affirming petitioner's conviction, even if the presumption at issue in this case is unconstitutional. First, the State notes that the jury was instructed that deliberate homicide may be committed "purposely or knowingly." [n. 12] App. 35 (emphasis added). Since the jury was also instructed that a person "intends" the ordinary consequences of his voluntary acts, but was not provided with a definition of "intends," respondent argues that jurors could have interpreted the word as referring only to the defendant's "purpose." Thus, a jury which convicted Sandstrom solely for his "knowledge," and which interpreted "intends" as relevant only to "purpose", would not have needed to rely upon the tainted presumption at all.
" 'Knowingly' is defined as follows: A person acts knowingly with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware of his conduct or that the circumstance exists. A person acts knowingly with respect to the result of conduct described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that it is highly probable that such result will be caused by his conduct. When knowledge of the existence of a particular fact is an element of an offense, such knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of its existence. Equivalent terms such as 'knowing' or 'with knowledge' have the same meaning.
"INSTRUCTION NO. 8
" 'Purposely' is defined as follows: A person acts purposely with respect to a result or to conduct described by a statute defining an offense if it is his conscious object to engage in that conduct or to cause that result." App. 35-36.
But, more significantly, even if a jury could have ignored the
presumption and found defendant guilty because he acted knowingly, we cannot
be certain that this is what they did do. [n. 13] As the jury's verdict
was a general one, App. 38, we have no way of knowing that Sandstrom was
not convicted on the basis of the unconstitutional instruction. And
"[i]t has long been settled that when a case is submitted to the jury on
alternative theories the unconstitutionality of any of the theories requires
that the conviction be set aside. See, e. g., Stromberg v. California,
283 U.S. 359, 51 S.Ct. 532, 75 L.Ed. 1117 (1931)." Leary v. United
States, 395 U.S., at 31-32, 89 S.Ct. at 1545-1546. See Ulster County
Court v. Allen, 442 U.S., at 159-160, n. 17, 99 S.Ct., at 2226, and at
175-176, 99 S.Ct., at 2234 (POWELL, J., dissenting); Bachellar v.
Maryland, 397 U.S., at 570-571, 90 S.Ct. at 1315- 1316; Brotherhood
of Carpenters v. United States, 330 U.S., at 408-409, 67 S.Ct. at 782;
Bollenbach v. United States, 326 U.S., at 611-614, 66 S.Ct. at 404-405.
It is so ordered.
Mr. Justice REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, concurring.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any State from depriving a person of liberty without due process of law, and in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975), this Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees prohibit a State from shifting to the defendant the burden of disproving an element of the crime charged. I am loath to see this Court go into the business of parsing jury instructions given by state trial courts, for as we have consistently recognized, "a single instruction to a jury may not be judged in artificial isolation, but must be viewed in the context of the overall charge." Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 146-147, 94 S.Ct. 396, 400, 38 L.Ed.2d 368 (1973). And surely if this charge had, in the words of the Court, "merely described a permissive inference," ante at 2454, it could not conceivably have run afoul of the constitutional decisions cited by the Court in its opinion. But a majority of my Brethren conclude that "it is clear that a reasonable juror could easily have viewed such an instruction as mandatory," ante, at 2454, and counsel for the State admitted in oral argument "that 'it's possible' that the jury believed they were required to apply the presumption." Ante, at 2454.
[p. 528] While I continue to have doubts as to whether
this particular jury was so attentively attuned to the instructions of
the trial court that it divined the difference recognized by lawyers between
"infer" and "presume," I defer to the judgment of the majority of the Court
that this difference in meaning may have been critical in its effect on
the jury. I therefore concur in the Court's opinion and judgment.