Griffin v. United States (502 U.S. 46)

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Griffin v. United States by Antonin Scalia
Court Documents
Concurring Opinion

United States Supreme Court

502 U.S. 46

Griffin  v.  United States

No. 90-6352  Argued: Oct. 7, 1991. --- Decided: Dec 3, 1991


Petitioner Griffin and others were charged in a multiple-object conspiracy. The evidence introduced at trial implicated Griffin in the first object of the conspiracy but not the second. The District Court nevertheless instructed the jury in a manner that would permit it to return a verdict against Griffin if it found her to have participated in either one of the two objects. The jury returned a general verdict of guilty. The Court of Appeals upheld Griffin's conviction, rejecting the argument that the verdict could not stand because it left in doubt whether the jury had convicted her as to the first or the second object.

Held: Neither the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment nor this Court's precedents require, in a federal prosecution, that a general guilty verdict on a multiple-object conspiracy be set aside if the evidence is inadequate to support conviction as to one of the objects. Pp. 49-60.

(a) The historical practice fails to support Griffin's due process claim, since the rule of criminal procedure applied by the Court of Appeals was a settled feature of the common law. Pp. 49-51.

(b) The precedent governing this case is not Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298, 77 S.Ct. 1064, 1 L.Ed.2d 1356, which invalidated a general verdict when one of the possible bases of conviction was legally inadequate, but Turner v. United States, 396 U.S. 398, 420, 90 S.Ct. 642, 654, 24 L.Ed.2d 610, which upheld a general verdict when one of the possible bases of conviction was supported by inadequate evidence. The line between Yates and Turner makes good sense: jurors are not generally equipped to determine whether a particular theory of conviction is contrary to law, but are well equipped to determine whether the theory is supported by the facts. Although it would generally be preferable to give an instruction removing from the jury's consideration an alternative basis of liability that does not have adequate evidentiary support, the refusal to do so does not provide an independent basis for reversing an otherwise valid conviction. Pp. 51-60.

913 F.2d 337 (CA7 1990), affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Michael G. Logan, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

William C. Bryson, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.


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).