Terry Lee SHANNON, Petitioner,

Supreme Court of the United States
512 U.S. 573 (1994)

 [p. 575] Justice THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

 In this case, we consider whether a federal district court is required to instruct the jury regarding the consequences to the defendant of a verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity," either under the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 or as a matter of general federal practice.  We conclude that such an instruction is not required, and therefore affirm.


 Prior to the enactment of the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 (IDRA or Act), 18 U.S.C. §§ 17, 4241-4247, federal courts generally did not recognize a verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity" (NGI).  Defendants who mounted a successful insanity defense--that is, those who raised a reasonable doubt as to their sanity at the time of the offense--were simply found "not guilty."  See, e.g., United States v. McCracken, 488 F.2d 406, 409, 418 (CA5 1974);  Evalt v. United States, 359 F.2d 534, 537 (CA9 1966). In addition, there was no general federal civil commitment procedure available to ensure that an insanity acquittee would receive proper care and treatment. Only in the District of Columbia was a defendant who successfully presented an insanity defense to a federal criminal charge subject to a federal commitment process--a process governed by a 1955 congressional enactment.  See 69 Stat. 609, as amended, D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301 (1981).  Elsewhere, federal authorities [p. 576] were forced to rely on the willingness of state authorities to institute civil commitment proceedings.  Reliance on state cooperation was "at best a partial solution to a serious problem," however, and federal courts "[t]ime and again ... decried this gaping statutory hole."  McCracken, supra, at 417.

 Before the IDRA was enacted, the Federal Courts of Appeals generally disapproved of instructing the jury concerning the post-trial consequences of an insanity acquittal.  Thus, jurors typically were given no information with regard to what would happen to a defendant acquitted by reason of insanity. The courts in general gave two reasons for disapproving such instructions. First, they pointed out that, given the absence of a federal commitment procedure, the consequences of an insanity acquittal were far from certain. Second, they concluded that such instructions would run afoul of the well-established principle that a jury is to base its verdict on the evidence before it, without regard to the possible consequences of the verdict.  See, e.g., McCracken, supra, at 423;  Evalt, supra, at 546;  United States v. Borum, 464 F.2d 896, 900-901 (CA10 1972).

 The only Court of Appeals to endorse the practice of instructing the jury regarding the consequences of an insanity acquittal was the District of Columbia Circuit.  See Lyles v. United States, 254 F.2d 725 (1957) (en banc), cert. denied, 356 U.S. 961, 78 S.Ct. 997, 2 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1958).  In Lyles, the District of Columbia Circuit addressed the jury instruction question in the context of D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301 (1951 ed., Supp. V), which, unlike generally applicable federal law, provided for a special verdict of NGI and, as noted above, a civil commitment procedure.  The Lyles court recognized the "well established and sound" doctrine "that the jury has no concern with the consequences" of a verdict, but stated that the doctrine "d[id] not apply" to the situation before it.  254 F.2d, at 728.  According to the court, although jurors generally were "aware of the meanings of verdicts of guilty and not guilty," they [p. 577] were unfamiliar with the meaning of an NGI verdict.  Ibid.  The court concluded that jurors had "a right to know" the meaning of an NGI verdict "as accurately as [they] kno[w] by common knowledge the meaning of the other two possible verdicts."  Ibid.

 The acquittal of John Hinckley on all charges stemming from his attempt on President Reagan's life, coupled with the ensuing public focus on the insanity defense, prompted Congress to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the insanity defense as it operated in the federal courts.  The result of this effort was the IDRA.  In the IDRA, Congress made insanity an affirmative defense to be proved by the defendant by clear and convincing evidence, and created a special verdict of "not guilty only by reason of insanity."  18 U.S.C. §§ 17 and 4242(b).  In addition, Congress filled the "statutory hole" that had been identified by federal courts, see McCracken, supra, by creating a comprehensive civil commitment procedure.  § 4243.  Under that procedure, a defendant found NGI is held in custody pending a court hearing, which must occur within 40 days of the verdict.  § 4243(c).  At the conclusion of the hearing, the court determines whether the defendant should be hospitalized or released.  §§ 4243(d), (e).


 At about 4 a.m. on August 25, 1990, a police officer stopped petitioner Terry Lee Shannon, a convicted felon, on a street in Tupelo, Mississippi.  For reasons not explained in the record before us, the officer asked Shannon to accompany him to the station house to speak with a detective.  After telling the officer that he did not want to live anymore, Shannon walked across the street, pulled a pistol from his coat, and shot himself in the chest.

 Shannon survived his suicide attempt and was indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).  At trial, he raised the insanity defense, and asked the District Court to instruct the jury that he [p. 578] would be involuntarily committed if the jury returned an NGI verdict. [n. 2]  The District Court refused to give Shannon's proposed charge. Instead, it instructed the jury "to apply the law as [instructed] regardless of the consequence," and that "punishment ... should not enter your consideration or discussion."  App. A-27 to A-28.  The jury returned a guilty verdict.

 The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed Shannon's conviction.  981 F.2d 759 (1993).  The court noted that under its pre-IDRA precedent, juries were not to be instructed concerning the consequences of an insanity acquittal.  Id., at 761-762 (discussing United States v. McCracken, 488 F.2d 406 (CA5 1974)).  Turning to the text of the IDRA, the court observed that Congress had "said nothing about informing juries of the consequences" of an NGI verdict.  981 F.2d, at 764.  Because there was no "statutory requirement" to the contrary, the court "adhere[d] to the established axiom that it is inappropriate for a jury to consider or be informed about the consequences of its verdict."  Ibid.

 [p. 579] We granted certiorari, 510 U.S. 943, 114 S.Ct. 380, 126 L.Ed.2d 330 (1993), in order to consider whether federal district courts are required to instruct juries with regard to the consequences of an NGI verdict.


 It is well established that when a jury has no sentencing function, it should be admonished to "reach its verdict without regard to what sentence might be imposed."  Rogers v. United States, 422 U.S. 35, 40, 95 S.Ct. 2091, 2095, 45 L.Ed.2d 1 (1975).  The principle that juries are not to consider the consequences of their verdicts is a reflection of the basic division of labor in our legal system between judge and jury.  The jury's function is to find the facts and to decide whether, on those facts, the defendant is guilty of the crime charged.  The judge, by contrast, imposes sentence on the defendant after the jury has arrived at a guilty verdict. Information regarding the consequences of a verdict is therefore irrelevant to the jury's task.  Moreover, providing jurors sentencing information invites them to ponder matters that are not within their province, distracts them from their factfinding responsibilities, and creates a strong possibility of confusion.  See Pope v. United States, 298 F.2d 507, 508 (CA5 1962);  cf. Rogers, supra, 422 U.S., at 40, 95 S.Ct., at 2095.

 Despite these familiar precepts, Shannon contends that an instruction informing the jury of the consequences of an NGI [p. 580] verdict is required under the IDRA whenever requested by the defendant.  He also argues that such an instruction is required as a matter of general federal criminal practice. We address each argument in turn.


 To determine whether Congress intended courts to depart from the principle that jurors are not to be informed of the consequences of their verdicts, we turn first, as always, to the text of the statute.  The IDRA refers to the subject of jury instructions only once, and that reference occurs in its description of the possible verdicts a jury may return.  Under the Act, "the jury shall be instructed to find ... the defendant--(1) guilty; (2) not guilty;  or (3) not guilty only by reason of insanity."  18 U.S.C. § 4242(b).  The text of the Act gives no indication that jurors are to be instructed regarding the consequences of an NGI verdict.  As the court below observed, the Act "leaves the jury solely with its customary determination of guilt or innocence."  981 F.2d, at 763.  The Act's text thus gives no support to Shannon's contention that an instruction informing the jury of the consequences of an NGI verdict is required.

 Shannon asserts, however, that an express statutory directive is not necessary because, by modeling the IDRA on D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301 (1981), Congress impliedly adopted the District of Columbia Circuit's decision in Lyles and the practice endorsed by that decision of instructing the jury as to the consequences of an NGI verdict.  For this argument he relies on Capital Traction Co. v. Hof, 174 U.S. 1, 36, 19 S.Ct. 580, 594, 43 L.Ed. 873 (1899), in which we stated:
[p. 581] "By a familiar canon of interpretation, heretofore applied by this court whenever Congress ... has borrowed from the statutes of a State provisions which had received in that State a known and settled construction before their enactment by Congress, that construction must be deemed to have been adopted by Congress together with the text which it expounded, and the provisions must be construed as they were understood at the time in the State."
 See also Carolene Products Co. v. United States, 323 U.S. 18, 26, 65 S.Ct. 1, 5, 89 L.Ed. 15 (1944) ("[T]he general rule [is] that adoption of the wording of a statute from another legislative jurisdiction carries with it the previous judicial interpretations of the wording");  Cathcart v. Robinson, 5 Pet. 264, 280, 8 L.Ed. 120 (1831).  The canon of interpretation upon which Shannon relies, however, is merely a "presumption of legislative intention" to be invoked only "under suitable conditions."  Carolene Products, supra, 323 U.S., at 26, 65 S.Ct., at 5.  We believe that the "conditions" are not "suitable" in this case.  Indeed, although Congress may have had the District of Columbia Code in mind when it passed the IDRA, see United States v. Crutchfield, 893 F.2d 376, 378 (CADC 1990), it did not, in the language of Hof, "borrow" the terms of the IDRA from the District of Columbia Code. Rather, Congress departed from the scheme embodied in D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301 in several significant ways.

 The IDRA, for example, requires a defendant at trial to prove insanity by clear and convincing evidence, 18 U.S.C. § 17(b);  the District of Columbia statute, by contrast, employs a preponderance standard, D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301(j).  A commitment hearing must be held under the IDRA within 40 days of an NGI verdict, 18 U.S.C. § 4243(c);  the period is 50 days under the District of Columbia scheme, D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301(d)(2)(A).  Under the IDRA, a defendant whose offense involved bodily injury to another or serious damage to another's property, or the substantial risk thereof, must demonstrate at the hearing by clear and convincing evidence [p. 582] that he is entitled to release, 18 U.S.C. § 4243(d);  under the District of Columbia scheme, an acquittee, regardless of the character of his offense, need only meet the preponderance standard, D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301(k)(3).  The IDRA provides that an acquittee, once committed, may be released when he no longer presents a substantial risk of harm to others or to their property, 18 U.S.C. § 4243(f);  an acquittee under the District of Columbia system may be released from commitment when he "will not in the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others," D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301(e).  Finally, in the IDRA, Congress rejected the broad test for insanity that had been utilized under the District of Columbia provision, and instead adopted a more restrictive formulation under which a person is deemed insane if he is unable "to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts."  18 U.S.C. § 17(a).  We believe that these significant differences between the IDRA and D.C.Code Ann. § 24-301 render the canon upon which Shannon relies inapplicable in this case.

* * *

 Setting the Act aside, Shannon argues that the instruction he proposes is required as a matter of general federal criminal practice.  Presumably, Shannon asks us to invoke our supervisory power over the federal courts. According to Shannon, the instruction is necessary because jurors are generally unfamiliar with the consequences of an NGI verdict, and may erroneously believe that a defendant who is found NGI will be immediately released into society. Jurors who are under this mistaken impression, Shannon continues, may also fear that the defendant, if released, would pose a danger to the community.  Shannon concludes that such jurors, in order to ensure that the defendant will not be released, may be tempted to return a guilty verdict in a case in which an NGI verdict would be appropriate.

 Even assuming Shannon is correct that some jurors will harbor the mistaken belief that defendants found NGI will be released into society immediately--an assumption that is [p. 585] open to debate--the jury in his case was instructed "to apply the law as [instructed] regardless of the consequence," and that "punishment ... should not enter your consideration or discussion."  App. A-27 to A-28.  That an NGI verdict was an option here gives us no reason to depart from "the almost invariable assumption of the law that jurors follow their instructions."  Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 206, 107 S.Ct. 1702, 1707, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987).  Indeed, although it may take effort on a juror's part to ignore the potential consequences of the verdict, the effort required in a case in which an NGI defense is raised is no different from that required in many other situations.  For example, if the Government fails to meet its burden of proof at trial, our judicial system necessarily assumes that a juror will vote to acquit, rather than to convict, even if he is convinced the defendant is highly dangerous and should be incarcerated.  We do not believe that the situation involving an NGI verdict should be treated any differently.

 We also are not persuaded that the instruction Shannon proposes would allay the fears of the misinformed juror about whom Shannon is concerned.  "[I]f the members of a jury are so fearful of a particular defendant's release that they would violate their oaths by convicting [the defendant] solely in order to ensure that he is not set free, it is questionable whether they would be reassured by anything short of an instruction strongly suggesting that the defendant, if found NGI, would very likely be civilly committed for a [p. 586] lengthy period."  United States v. Fisher, 10 F.3d 115, 122 (CA3 1993), cert. pending, No. 93-7000.  An accurate instruction about the consequences of an NGI verdict, however, would give no such assurance.  Under the IDRA, a postverdict hearing must be held within 40 days to determine whether the defendant should be released immediately into society or hospitalized.  See 18 U.S.C. §§ 4243(c), (d).  Thus, the only mandatory period of confinement for an insanity acquittee is the period between the verdict and the hearing.  Instead of encouraging a juror to return an NGI verdict, as Shannon predicts, such information might have the opposite effect-- that is, a juror might vote to convict in order to eliminate the possibility that a dangerous defendant could be released after 40 days or less. Whether the instruction works to the advantage or disadvantage of a defendant is, of course, somewhat beside the point.  Our central concern here is that the inevitable result of such an instruction would be to draw the jury's attention toward the very thing--the possible consequences of its verdict--it should ignore.

 Moreover, Shannon offers us no principled way to limit the availability of instructions detailing the consequences of a verdict to cases in which an NGI defense is raised.  Jurors may be as unfamiliar with other aspects of the criminal sentencing process as they are with NGI verdicts.  But, as a general matter, jurors are not informed of mandatory minimum or maximum sentences, nor are they instructed regarding [p. 587] probation, parole, or the sentencing range accompanying a lesser included offense.  See United States v. Thigpen, 4 F.3d 1573, 1578 (CA11 1993) (en banc), cert. pending, No. 93-6747; United States v. Frank, 956 F.2d 872, 879 (CA9 1991), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 932, 113 S.Ct. 363, 121 L.Ed.2d 276 (1992).  Because it is conceivable that some jurors might harbor misunderstandings with regard to these sentencing options, a district court, under Shannon's reasoning, might be obligated to give juries information regarding these possibilities as well.  In short, if we pursue the logic of Shannon's position, the rule against informing jurors of the consequences of their verdicts would soon be swallowed by the exceptions.

 Finally, Congress' recent action in this area counsels hesitation in invoking our supervisory powers.  As noted above, the IDRA was the product of a thorough and exhaustive review of the insanity defense as used in the federal courts.  Given the comprehensive nature of the task before it, Congress certainly could have included a provision requiring the instruction Shannon seeks.  For whatever reason, Congress chose not to do so.  Under these circumstances, we are reluctant to depart from well-established principles of criminal practice without more explicit guidance from Congress.


 Although we conclude that the IDRA does not require an instruction concerning the consequences of an NGI verdict, and that such an instruction is not to be given as a matter of general practice, we recognize that an instruction of some form may be necessary under certain limited circumstances. If, for example, a witness or prosecutor states in the presence of the jury that a particular defendant would "go free" if found NGI, it may be necessary for the district court to intervene with an instruction to counter such a misstatement.  The appropriate response, of course, will vary as is necessary to remedy the specific misstatement or error.  We note this possibility merely so that our decision will not be [p. 588] misunderstood as an absolute prohibition on instructing the jury with regard to the consequences of an NGI verdict.  Our observations in this regard are not applicable to Shannon's situation, however, for there is no indication that any improper statement was made in the presence of the jury during his trial.

 *   *   *

 Because the District Court properly refused to give the instruction Shannon requested, we affirm.

 So ordered.

 Justice STEVENS, with whom Justice BLACKMUN joins, dissenting.