Earline MARTIN, Petitioner,
Supreme Court of the United States
480 U.S. 228, 107 S.Ct. 1098 (1987)
[p. 230] Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Ohio Code provides that "[e]very person accused of an offense is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and the burden of proof for all elements of the offense is upon the prosecution. The burden of going forward with the evidence of an affirmative defense, and the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, for an affirmative defense, is upon the accused." Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 2901.05(A) (1982). An affirmative defense is one involving "an excuse or justification peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused, on which he can fairly be required to adduce supporting evidence." Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 2901.05(C)(2) (1982). The Ohio courts have "long determined that self-defense is an affirmative defense," 21 Ohio St.3d 91, 93, 488 N.E.2d 166, 168 (1986), and that the defendant has the burden of proving it as required by § 2901.05(A).
As defined by the trial court in its instructions in this case, the elements of self-defense that the defendant must prove are that (1) the defendant was not at fault in creating the situation giving rise to the argument; (2) the defendant had an honest belief that she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that her only means of escape from such danger was in the use of such force; and (3) the defendant did not violate any duty to retreat or avoid danger. App. 19. The question before us is whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids placing the burden of proving self-defense on the defendant when she is charged by the State of Ohio with committing the crime of aggravated murder, which, as relevant to this case, is defined by the Revised Code of Ohio as "purposely, and with prior calculation and design, caus[ing] the death of another." Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 2903.01 (1982).
The facts of the case, taken from the opinions of the courts below, may be succinctly stated. On July 21, 1983, petitioner Earline Martin and her husband, Walter Martin, [p. 231] argued over grocery money. Petitioner claimed that her husband struck her in the head during the argument. Petitioner's version of what then transpired was that she went upstairs, put on a robe, and later came back down with her husband's gun which she intended to dispose of. Her husband saw something in her hand and questioned her about it. He came at her, and she lost her head and fired the gun at him. Five or six shots were fired, three of them striking and killing Mr. Martin. She was charged with and tried for aggravated murder. She pleaded self-defense and testified in her own defense. The judge charged the jury with respect to the elements of the crime and of self-defense and rejected petitioner's Due Process Clause challenge to the charge placing on her the burden of proving self-defense. The jury found her guilty.
Both the Ohio Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the conviction. Both rejected the constitutional challenge to the instruction requiring petitioner to prove self-defense. The latter court, relying upon our opinion in Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977), concluded that the State was required to prove the three elements of aggravated murder but that Patterson did not require it to disprove self- defense, which is a separate issue that did not require Mrs. Martin to disprove any element of the offense with which she was charged. The court said, "the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant purposely, and with prior calculation and design, caused the death of her husband. Appellant did not dispute the existence of these elements, but rather sought to justify her actions on grounds she acted in self defense." 21 Ohio St.3d, at 94, 488 N.E.2d, at 168. There was thus no infirmity in her conviction. We granted certiorari, 475 U.S. 1119, 106 S.Ct. 1634, 90 L.Ed.2d 180 (1986), and affirm the decision of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970), declared that the Due Process Clause "protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact [p. 232] necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged." A few years later, we held that Winship 's mandate was fully satisfied where the State of New York had proved beyond reasonable doubt each of the elements of murder, but placed on the defendant the burden of proving the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance, which, if proved, would have reduced the crime from murder to manslaughter. Patterson v. New York, supra. We there emphasized the preeminent role of the States in preventing and dealing with crime and the reluctance of the Court to disturb a State's decision with respect to the definition of criminal conduct and the procedures by which the criminal laws are to be enforced in the courts, including the burden of producing evidence and allocating the burden of persuasion. 432 U.S., at 201-202, 97 S.Ct., at 2322. New York had the authority to define murder as the intentional killing of another person. It had chosen, however, to reduce the crime to manslaughter if the defendant proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he had acted under the influence of extreme emotional distress. To convict of murder, the jury was required to find beyond a reasonable doubt, based on all the evidence, including that related to the defendant's mental state at the time of the crime, each of the elements of murder and also to conclude that the defendant had not proved his affirmative defense. The jury convicted Patterson, and we held there was no violation of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed in Winship. Referring to Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 72 S.Ct. 1002, 96 L.Ed. 1302 (1952), and Rivera v. Delaware, 429 U.S. 877, 97 S.Ct. 226, 50 L.Ed.2d 160 (1976), we added that New York "did no more than Leland and Rivera permitted it to do without violating the Due Process Clause" and declined to reconsider those cases. 432 U.S., at 206, 207, 97 S.Ct., at 2324, 2325. It was also observed that "the fact that a majority of the States have now assumed the burden of disproving affirmative defenses--for whatever reasons--[does not] mean that those States that strike a different balance are in violation of the Constitution." Id., at 211, 97 S.Ct., at 2327.
[p. 233] As in Patterson, the jury was here instructed that to convict it must find, in light of all the evidence, that each of the elements of the crime of aggravated murder has been proved by the State beyond reasonable doubt, and that the burden of proof with respect to these elements did not shift. To find guilt, the jury had to be convinced that none of the evidence, whether offered by the State or by Martin in connection with her plea of self- defense, raised a reasonable doubt that Martin had killed her husband, that she had the specific purpose and intent to cause his death, or that she had done so with prior calculation and design. It was also told, however, that it could acquit if it found by a preponderance of the evidence that Martin had not precipitated the confrontation, that she had an honest belief that she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that she had satisfied any duty to retreat or avoid danger. The jury convicted Martin.
We agree with the State and its Supreme Court that this conviction did not violate the Due Process Clause. The State did not exceed its authority in defining the crime of murder as purposely causing the death of another with prior calculation or design. It did not seek to shift to Martin the burden of proving any of those elements, and the jury's verdict reflects that none of her self-defense evidence raised a reasonable doubt about the State's proof that she purposefully killed with prior calculation and design. She nevertheless had the opportunity under state law and the instructions given to justify the killing and show herself to be blameless by proving that she acted in self-defense. The jury thought she had failed to do so, and Ohio is as entitled to punish Martin as one guilty of murder as New York was to punish Patterson.
It would be quite different if the jury had been instructed that self-defense evidence could not be considered in determining whether there was a reasonable doubt about the State's case, i.e., that self-defense evidence must be put aside for all purposes unless it satisfied the preponderance [p. 234] standard. Such an instruction would relieve the State of its burden and plainly run afoul of Winship 's mandate. 397 U.S., at 364, 90 S.Ct., at 1072. The instructions in this case could be clearer in this respect, but when read as a whole, we think they are adequate to convey to the jury that all of the evidence, including the evidence going to self-defense, must be considered in deciding whether there was a reasonable doubt about the sufficiency of the State's proof of the elements of the crime.
We are thus not moved by assertions that the elements of aggravated
murder and self-defense overlap in the sense that evidence to prove the
latter will often tend to negate the former. It may be that most
encounters in which self- defense is claimed arise suddenly and involve
no prior plan or specific purpose to take life. In those cases, evidence
offered to support the defense may negate a purposeful killing by prior
calculation and design, but Ohio does not shift to the defendant the burden
of disproving any element of the state's case. When the prosecution
has made out a prima facie case and survives a motion to acquit, the jury
may nevertheless not convict if the evidence offered by the defendant raises
any reasonable doubt about the existence of any fact necessary for the
finding of guilt. Evidence creating a reasonable doubt could easily
fall far short of proving self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
Of course, if such doubt is not raised in the jury's mind and each juror
is convinced that the defendant purposely and with prior calculation and
design took life, the killing will still be excused if the elements of
the defense are satisfactorily established. We note here, but need
not rely on, the observation of the Supreme Court of Ohio that "[a]ppellant
did not dispute the existence of [the elements of aggravated murder], but
rather sought to justify her actions on grounds she acted in self-defense."
21 Ohio St.3d, at 94, 488 N.E.2d, at 168. [n. *]
As we noted in Patterson, the common-law rule was that affirmative defenses, including self-defense, were matters for the defendant to prove. "This was the rule when the Fifth Amendment was adopted, and it was the American rule when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified." 432 U.S., at 202, 97 S.Ct., at 2322. Indeed, well into this century, a number of States followed the common-law rule and required a defendant to shoulder the burden of proving that he acted in self-defense. Fletcher, Two Kinds of Legal Rules: A Comparative Study of Burden-of-Persuasion Practices in Criminal Cases, 77 Yale [p. 236] L.J. 880, 882, and n. 10 (1968). We are aware that all but two of the States, Ohio and South Carolina, have abandoned the common-law rule and require the prosecution to prove the absence of self-defense when it is properly raised by the defendant. But the question remains whether those States are in violation of the Constitution; and, as we observed in Patterson, that question is not answered by cataloging the practices of other States. We are no more convinced that the Ohio practice of requiring self-defense to be proved by the defendant is unconstitutional than we are that the Constitution requires the prosecution to prove the sanity of a defendant who pleads not guilty by reason of insanity. We have had the opportunity to depart from Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 72 S.Ct. 1002, 96 L.Ed. 1302 (1952), but have refused to do so. Rivera v. Delaware, 429 U.S. 877, 97 S.Ct. 226, 50 L.Ed.2d 160 (1976). These cases were important to the Patterson decision and they, along with Patterson, are authority for our decision today.
The judgment of the Ohio Supreme Court is accordingly
Justice POWELL, with whom Justice BRENNAN and Justice MARSHALL join, and with whom Justice BLACKMUN joins with respect to Parts I and III, dissenting.
Today the Court holds that a defendant can be convicted of aggravated murder even though the jury may have a reasonable doubt whether the accused acted in self-defense, and thus whether he is guilty of a crime. Because I think this decision is inconsistent with both precedent and fundamental fairness, I dissent.
Petitioner Earline Martin was tried in state court for the aggravated murder of her husband. Under Ohio law, the elements of the crime are that the defendant has purposely killed another with "prior calculation and design." Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 2903.01 (1982). Martin admitted that she [p. 237] shot her husband, but claimed that she acted in self-defense. Because self-defense is classified as an "affirmative" defense in Ohio, the jury was instructed that Martin had the burden of proving her claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Martin apparently failed to carry this burden, and the jury found her guilty.
The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the conviction, relying in part on this Court's opinion in Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977). The Court today also relies on the Patterson reasoning in affirming the Ohio decision. If one accepts Patterson as the proper method of analysis for this case, I believe that the Court's opinion ignores its central meaning.
In Patterson, the Court upheld a state statute that shifted the burden of proof for an affirmative defense to the accused. New York law required the prosecutor to prove all of the statutorily defined elements of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, but permitted a defendant to reduce the charge to manslaughter by showing that he acted while suffering an "extreme emotional disturbance." See N.Y.Penal Law §§ 125.25, 125.20 (McKinney 1975 and Supp.1987). The Court found that this burdenshifting did not violate due process, largely because the affirmative defense did "not serve to negative any facts of the crime which the State is to prove in order to convict of murder." 432 U.S., at 207, 97 S.Ct., at 2325. The clear implication of this ruling is that when an affirmative defense does negate an element of the crime, the state may not shift the burden. See White v. Arn, 788 F.2d 338, 344-345 (CA6 1986). In such a case, In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970), requires the state to prove the nonexistence of the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
The reason for treating a defense that negates an element of the
crime differently from other affirmative defenses is plain. If the
jury is told that the prosecution has the burden of proving all the elements
of a crime, but then also is instructed [p. 238] that the defendant has
the burden of dis proving one of those same elements, there is a danger
that the jurors will resolve the inconsistency in a way that lessens the
presumption of innocence. For example, the jury might reasonably
believe that by raising the defense, the accused has assumed the ultimate
burden of proving that particular element. Or, it might reconcile
the instructions simply by balancing the evidence that supports the prosecutor's
case against the evidence supporting the affirmative defense, and conclude
that the state has satisfied its burden if the prosecution's version is
more persuasive. In either case, the jury is given the unmistakable
but erroneous impression that the defendant shares the risk of nonpersuasion
as to a fact necessary for conviction. [n. 1]
The Court gives no explanation for this apparent rejection of Patterson. The only justification advanced for the Court's decision is that the jury could have used the evidence of self-defense to find that the State failed to carry its burden of proof. Because the jurors were free to consider both Martin's and the State's evidence, the argument goes, the verdict of guilt necessarily means that they were convinced that the defendant acted with prior calculation and design, and were unpersuaded that she acted in self-defense. Ante, at 1101. The Court thus seems to conclude that as long as the jury is told that the state has the burden of proving all elements of the crime, the overlap between the offense and defense is immaterial.
[p. 240] This reasoning is flawed in two respects. First,
it simply ignores the problem that arises from inconsistent jury instructions
in a criminal case. The Court's holding implicitly assumes that the
jury in fact understands that the ultimate burden remains with the prosecutor
at all times, despite a conflicting instruction that places the burden
on the accused to disprove the same element. But as pointed out above,
the Patterson distinction between defenses that negate an element of the
crime and those that do not is based on the legitimate concern that the
jury will mistakenly lower the state's burden. In short, the Court's rationale
fails to explain why the overlap in this case does not create the risk
that Patterson suggested was unacceptable. [n. 3]
I agree, of course, that States must have substantial leeway in
defining their criminal laws and administering their criminal justice systems.
But none of our precedents suggests that courts must give complete deference
to a State's judgment about whether a shift in the burden of proof is consistent
with the presumption of innocence. In the past we have emphasized
that in some circumstances it may be necessary to look beyond the text
of the State's burden-shifting laws to satisfy ourselves that the requirements
of Winship have been satisfied. In Mullaney
v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 698-699, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 1889, 44 L.Ed.2d 508
(1975) we explicitly noted the danger of granting the State unchecked
discretion to shift the burden as to any element of proof in a criminal
case. [n. 4] The Court today fails to discuss or even cite Mullaney,
despite our unanimous agreement in that case that this danger would justify
judicial intervention in some cases. Even Patterson, from which I
dissented, recognized that "there are obviously constitutional limits beyond
which the States may not go [in labeling elements of a crime as an affirmative
defense]." [n. 5] 432 U.S., at 210, 97 S.Ct., at 2327. Today,
however, the Court simply asserts that Ohio law properly allocates the
burdens, without giving any indication of where those limits lie.
5. See also McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, 86, 106 S.Ct. 2411, 2416, 91 L.Ed.2d 67 (1986) ("[I]n certain limited circumstances Winship 's reasonable-doubt requirement applies to facts not formally identified as elements of the offense charged").
Although I believe that this case is wrongly decided even under
the principles set forth in Patterson, my differences with the Court's
approach are more fundamental. I continue to believe that the better
method for deciding when a State may shift the burden of proof is outlined
in the Court's opinion in Mullaney and in my dissenting opinion in Patterson.
In Mullaney, we emphasized that the state's obligation to prove certain
facts beyond a reasonable doubt was not necessarily restricted to legislative
distinctions between offenses and affirmative defenses. The boundaries
of the state's authority in this respect were elaborated in the Patterson
dissent, where I proposed a two-part inquiry: "The Due Process Clause
requires that the prosecutor bear the burden of persuasion beyond a reasonable
doubt only if the factor at issue makes a substantial difference in punishment
and stigma. The requirement of course applies a fortiori if the factor
makes the difference between guilt and innocence.... It also must
be shown that in the Anglo-American legal tradition the factor in question
historically has held that level of importance. If either branch
of the test is not met, then the legislature retains its traditional authority
over matters of proof." 432 U.S., at 226-227, 97 S.Ct., at 2335 (footnotes
Cf. McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, 103, 106 S.Ct. 2411, 2425, 91 L.Ed.2d 67 (1986) (STEVENS, J., dissenting) ("[I]f a State provides that a specific component of a prohibited transaction shall give rise both to a special stigma and to a special punishment, that component must be treated as a 'fact necessary to constitute the crime' within the meaning of our holding in In re Winship").
There are at least two benefits to this approach. First, it ensures that the critical facts necessary to sustain a conviction will be proved by the state. Because the Court would [p. 243] be willing to look beyond the text of a state statute, legislatures would have no incentive to redefine essential elements of an offense to make them part of an affirmative defense, thereby shifting the burden of proof in a manner inconsistent with Winship and Mullaney. Second, it would leave the states free in all other respects to recognize new factors that may mitigate the degree of criminality or punishment, without requiring that they also bear the burden of disproving these defenses. See Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S., at 229-230, 97 S.Ct., at 2336-2337 (POWELL, J., dissenting) ("New ameliorative affirmative defenses ... generally remain undisturbed by the holdings in Winship and Mullaney " (footnote omitted)).
Under this analysis, it plainly is impermissible to require the accused to prove self-defense. If petitioner could have carried her burden, the result would have been decisively different as to both guilt and punishment. There also is no dispute that self-defense historically is one of the primary justifications for otherwise unlawful conduct. See, e.g., Beard v. United States, 158 U.S. 550, 562, 15 S.Ct. 962, 966, 39 L.Ed. 1086 (1895). Thus, while I acknowledge that the two-part test may be difficult to apply at times, it is hard to imagine a more clear-cut application than the one presented here.
In its willingness to defer to the State's legislative definitions
of crimes and defenses, the Court apparently has failed to recognize the
practical effect of its decision. Martin alleged that she was innocent
because she acted in self-defense, a complete justification under Ohio
law. See State v. Nolton, 19 Ohio St.2d 133, 249 N.E.2d 797 (1969).
Because she had the burden of proof on this issue, the jury could have
believed that it was just as likely as not that Martin's conduct was justified,
and yet still have voted to convict. In other words, even though
the jury may have had a substantial doubt whether Martin committed a crime,
she was found guilty under Ohio law. I do not agree that the Court's
authority [p. 244] to review state legislative choices is so limited that
it justifies increasing the risk of convicting a person who may not be
blameworthy. See Patterson v. New York, supra, 432 U.S., at 201-202,
97 S.Ct., at 2322 (state definition of criminal law must yield when it
" 'offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience
of our people as to be ranked as fundamental' " (quoting Speiser v. Randall,
357 U.S. 513, 523, 78 S.Ct. 1332, 1340, 2 L.Ed.2d 1460 (1958))).
The complexity of the inquiry as to when a State may shift the burden of
proof should not lead the Court to fashion simple rules of deference that
could lead to such unjust results.