Green v. United States (365 U.S. 301)/Opinion of the Court
|Green v. United States (365 U.S. 301)
Opinion of the Court
United States Supreme Court
GREEN v. UNITED STATES (365 U.S. 301)
Argued: Jan. 10, 1961. --- Decided: Feb 27, 1961
Defendant, the petitioner here, in 1952 was convicted in the United States District Court for Massachusetts on a three-count indictment charging him with (1) entering a bank with intent to commit a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113 (a), 18 U.S.C.A. § 2113(a); (2) robbing the bank, also in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a), 18 U.S.C.A. § 2113(a); and (3) assaulting or putting in jeopardy the lives of persons by use of a dangerous weapon while committing the robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(d), 18 U.S.C.A. § 2113(d). Five days later, after defendant's counsel had completed motions in arrest of judgment and for new trial, the district judge asked, 'Did you want to say something?' whereupon counsel at some length invoked the trial judge's discretionary leniency. The defendant's age, family status, and physical condition were mentioned, as was the fact that he was then serving a sentence in a state penitentiary which would delay the time from which his federal punishment would run. Thereupon the trial judge, presumably relying upon a presentence probation report, observed that the defendant was a hardened criminal, that he had in the past committed other armed robberies, and that there was no warrant to believe that rehabilitation was possible. He then pronounced sentence as follows:
'Theodore Green, the Court orders that on this indictment you be sentenced as follows: 'On Count 1 of the indictment 20 years, on Count 2 of the indictment that you be imprisoned for 20 years, and on Count 3 of the indictment that you be imprisoned for the period of 25 years, said prison sentence to run concurrent and to begin upon your release from prison upon the sentence you are now receiving under order of the State Court.' Subsequently, defendant was permitted to bring his appeal in forma pauperis which was dismissed by the Court of Appeals 'for want of diligent prosecution.' In two other later actions, defendant unsuccessfully brought proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, 28 U.S.C.A. § 2255, to vacate his sentence.
These two cases, here consolidated, arise out of two separate actions brought, some seven years after conviction, under Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A., in an effort to set aside the sentence which petitioner asserts to be illegal. In No. 70, petitioner claims that the failure of the judge to inquire of the defendant if he had anything to say on his own behalf prior to sentencing rendered the subsequent sentence illegal under Federal Criminal Rule 32(a).  In No. 179, petitioner questions the legality of the twenty-five-year sentence for aggravated bank robbery  when immediately prior to its imposition the judge had imposed a twenty-year sentence under another count of the indictment for the same offense without the elements of aggravation.
If Rule 32(a) constitutes an inflexible requirement that the trial judge specifically address the defendant, e.g., 'Do you, the defendant, Theodore Green, have anything to say before I pass sentence?' then what transpired in the present case falls short of the requirement, even assuming that this inadequacy in the circumstances now before us would constitute an error per se rendering the sentence illegal.
The design of Rule 32(a) did not begin with its promulgation; its legal provenance was the common-law right of allocution. As early as 1689, it was recognized that the court's failure to ask the defendant if he had anything to say before sentence was imposed required reversal. See Anonymous, 3 Mod. 265, 266, 87 Eng.Rep. 175 (K.B.). Taken in the context of its history, there can be little doubt that the drafters of Rule 32(a) intended that the defendant be personally afforded the opportunity to speak before imposition of sentence. We are not unmindful of the relevant major changes that have evolved in criminal procedure since the seventeenth century-the sharp decrease in the number of crimes which were punishable by death, the right of the defendant to testify on his own behalf, and the right to counsel. But we see no reason why a procedural rule should be limited to the circumstances under which it arose if reasons for the right it protects remain. None of these modern innovations lessens the need for the defendant, personally, to have the opportunity to present to the court his plea in mitigation. The most persuasive counsel may not be able to speak for a defendant as the defendant might, with halting eloquence, speak for himself. We are buttressed in this conclusion by the fact that the Rule explicitly affords the defendant two rights: 'to make a statement in his own behalf,' and 'to present any information in mitigation of punishment.' We therefore reject the Government's contention that merely affording defendant's counsel the opportunity to speak fulfills the dual role of Rule 32(a). See Taylor v. United States, 9 Cir., 1960, 285 F.2d 703.
However, we do not read the record before us to have denied the defendant the opportunity to which Rule 32(a) entitled him. The single pertinent sentence-the trial judge's question 'Did you want to say something?'-may well have been directed to the defendant and not to his counsel. A record, certainly this record, unlike a play, is unaccompanied with stage directions which may tell the significant cast of the eye or the nod of the head. It may well be that the defendant himself was recognized and sufficiently apprised of his right to speak and chose to exercise this right through his counsel. Especially is this conclusion warranted by the fact that the defendant has raised this claim seven years after the occurrence. The defendant has failed to meet his burden of showing that he was not accorded the personal right which Rule 32(a) guarantees, and we therefore find that his sentence was not illegal.
However, to avoid litigation arising out of ambiguous records in order to determine whether the trial judge did address himself to the defendant personally, we think that the problem should be, as it readily can be, taken out of the realm of controversy. This is easily accomplished. Trial judges before sentencing should, as a matter of good judicial administration, unambiguously address themselves to the defendant. Hereafter trial judges should leave no room for doubt that the defendant has been issued a personal invitation to speak prior to sentencing.
In No. 179 petitioner contends that his sentence was rendered illegal because the district judge, after sentencing him to twenty years for bank robbery under Count 2, proceeded under Count 3 to sentence him to twenty-five years for the aggravated version of the same crime. The claim is that since the two counts did not charge separate offenses, the judge's power to sentence expired with the imposition of sentence under Count 2 and that five years should be remitted from petitioner's concurrent sentence.
The Government concedes that Count 3 did not charge a separate offense, see Holiday v. Johnston, 313 U.S. 342, 349, 550, 61 S.Ct. 1015, 1017, 85 L.Ed. 1392, and there is every indication that the district judge was of this view. In his charge to the jury he stated:
'The third count is a different type of count. That is not a separate offense. I will speak to you later of the manner in which you will handle the third count. That is not a separate offense * * *. That is not a separate count, to repeat, that is an aggravation of the second count, robbing the bank.'
Although petitioner is technically correct that sentences should not have been imposed on both counts, the remedy which he seeks does not follow. This is not a case where sentence was passed on two counts stating alternative means of committing one offense; rather, the third count involved additional characteristics which made the offense an aggravated one-namely, putting persons in jeopardy of life by use of a dangerous weapon. Plainly enough, the intention of the district judge was to impose the maximum sentence of twenty-five years for aggravated bank robbery, and the formal defect in his procedure should not vitiate his considered judgment. 
^1 Rule 32(a) in pertinent part provides:
'Before imposing sentence the court shall afford the defendant an opportunity to make a statement in his own behalf and to present any information in mitigation of punishment.'
^2 'Whoever, in committing, or in attempting to commit, any offense defined in subsections (a) and (b) of this section, assaults any person, or puts in jeopardy the life of any person by the use of a dangerous weapon or device, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than twenty-five years, or both.' 18 U.S.C. § 2113(d), 18 U.S.C.A. § 2113(d).
^3 Petitioner further complains of an improper charge to the jury on Count 3. Rule 35 does not encompass all claims that could be made by direct appeal attacking the conviction, but rather is limited to challenges that involve the legality of the sentence itself.
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).|