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TIBBS v. FLORIDA

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: June 7, 1982.

TIBBS
v.
FLORIDA

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA.

O'connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Powell, Rehnquist, and Stevens, JJ., joined. White, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined, post, p. 47.

Author: O'connor

[ 457 U.S. Page 32]

 JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether the Double Jeopardy Clause*fn1 bars retrial after a state appellate court sets aside a conviction on the ground that the verdict was against "the weight of the evidence." After examining the policies supporting the Double Jeopardy Clause, we hold that a reversal based on the weight, rather than the sufficiency, of the evidence permits the State to initiate a new prosecution.

I

In 1974, Florida indicted petitioner Delbert Tibbs for the first-degree murder of Terry Milroy, the felony murder of Milroy, and the rape of Cynthia Nadeau. Nadeau, the State's chief trial witness, testified that she and Milroy were hitchhiking from St. Petersburg to Marathon, Fla., on February 3, 1974. A man in a green truck picked them up near Fort Myers and, after driving a short way, turned off the highway into a field. He asked Milroy to help him siphon gas from some farm machinery, and Milroy agreed. When Nadeau stepped out of the truck a few minutes later, she discovered the driver holding a gun on Milroy. The driver told Milroy that he wished to have sex with Nadeau, and ordered her to strip. After forcing Nadeau to engage in sodomy, the driver agreed that Milroy could leave. As Milroy started to walk away, however, the assailant shot him in the shoulder. When Milroy fell to the ground, pleading for his life, the gunman walked over and taunted, "Does it hurt, boy? You in

[ 457 U.S. Page 33]

     pain? Does it hurt, boy?" Tr. 508. Then, with a shot to the head, he killed Milroy.

This deed finished, the killer raped Nadeau. Fearing for her life, she suggested that they should leave together and that she "would be his old lady." Id., at 510. The killer seemed to agree and they returned to the highway in the truck. After driving a short distance, he stopped the truck and ordered Nadeau to walk directly in front of it. As soon as her feet hit the ground, however, she ran in the opposite direction. The killer fled with the truck, frightened perhaps by an approaching car. When Nadeau reached a nearby house, the occupants let her in and called the police.

That night, Nadeau gave the police a detailed description of the assailant and his truck. Several days later a patrolman stopped. Tibbs, who was hitchhiking near Ocala, Fla., because his appearance matched Nadeau's description. The Ocala Police Department photographed Tibbs and relayed the pictures to the Fort Myers police. When Nadeau examined these photos, she identified Tibbs as the assailant.*fn2 Nadeau subsequently picked Tibbs out of a lineup and positively identified him at trial as the man who murdered Milroy and raped her.*fn3

[ 457 U.S. Page 34]

     Tibbs' attorney attempted to show that Nadeau was an unreliable witness. She admitted during cross-examination that she had tried "just about all" types of drugs and that she had smoked marihuana shortly before the crimes occurred. Id., at 526, 545-546. She also evidenced some confusion about the time of day that the assailant had offered her and Milroy a ride. Finally, counsel suggested through questions and closing argument that Nadeau's former boyfriend had killed Milroy and that Nadeau was lying to protect her boyfriend. Nadeau flatly denied these suggestions.*fn4

In addition to these attempts to discredit Nadeau, Tibbs testified in his own defense. He explained that he was college educated, that he had published a story and a few poems, and that he was hitchhiking through Florida to learn more about how people live. He claimed that he was in Daytona Beach, across the State from Fort Myers, from the evening of February 1, 1974, through the morning of February 6. He also testified that he did not own a green truck, and

[ 457 U.S. Page 35]

     that he had not driven any vehicle while in Florida. Finally, he denied committing any of the crimes charged against him.

Two Salvation Army officers partially corroborated Tibbs' story. These officers produced a card signed by Tibbs, indicating that he had slept at the Daytona Beach Salvation Army Transit Lodge on the evening of February 1, 1974. Neither witness, however, had seen Tibbs after the morning of February 2. Tibbs' other witnesses testified to his good reputation as a law-abiding citizen and to his good reputation for veracity.

On rebuttal, the State produced a card, similar to the one introduced by Tibbs, showing that Tibbs had spent the night of February 4 at the Orlando Salvation Army Transit Lodge. This evidence contradicted Tibbs' claim that he had remained in Daytona Beach until February 6, as well as his sworn statements that he had been in Orlando only once, during the early part of January 1974, and that he had not stayed in any Salvation Army lodge after February 1. After the State presented this rebuttal evidence, Tibbs took the stand to deny both that he had been in Orlando on February 4 and that the signature on the Orlando Salvation Army card was his.

The jury convicted Tibbs of first-degree murder and rape. Pursuant to the jury's recommendation, the judge sentenced Tibbs to death. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court reversed. Tibbs v. State, 337 So. 2d 788 (1976) (Tibbs I). A plurality of three justices, while acknowledging that "the resolution of factual issues in a criminal trial is peculiarly within the province of a jury," id., at 791, identified six weaknesses in the State's case.*fn5 First, except for Nadeau's testimony, the State introduced no evidence placing Tibbs in or near Fort Myers on the day of the crimes. Second, although

[ 457 U.S. Page 36]

     Nadeau gave a detailed description of the assailant's truck, police never found the vehicle. Third, police discovered neither a gun nor car keys in Tibbs' possession. Fourth, Tibbs cooperated fully with the police when he was stopped and arrested. Fifth, the State introduced no evidence casting doubt on Tibbs' veracity.*fn6 Tibbs, on the other hand, produced witnesses who attested to his good reputation. Finally, several factors undermined Nadeau's believability. Although she asserted at trial that the crimes occurred during daylight, other evidence suggested that the events occurred after nightfall when reliable identification would have been more difficult. Nadeau, furthermore, had smoked marihuana shortly before the crimes and had identified Tibbs during a suggestive photograph session.*fn7 These weaknesses left the plurality in "considerable doubt that Delbert Tibbs [was] the man who committed the crimes for which he [had] been convicted." Id., at 790. Therefore, the plurality concluded that the "interests of justice" required a new trial. Ibid.*fn8

Justice Boyd concurred specially, noting that "'[the] test to be applied in determining the adequacy of a verdict is whether a jury of reasonable men could have returned that verdict.'" Id., at 792 (quoting Griffis v. Hill, 230 So. 2d 143, 145

[ 457 U.S. Page 37]

     (Fla. 1969)). Apparently applying that standard, Justice Boyd found the State's evidence deficient. He concluded that "the weakness of the evidence presented in the trial court might well require that [Tibbs] be released from incarceration without further litigation," but "reluctantly [concurred]" in the plurality's decision to order a new trial because he understood Florida law to permit retrial. 337 So. 2d, at 792.*fn9

On remand, the trial court dismissed the indictment, concluding that retrial would violate the double jeopardy principles articulated in Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1 (1978), and Greene v. Massey, 437 U.S. 19 (1978).*fn10 An intermediate appellate court disagreed and remanded the case for trial. 370 So. 2d 386 (Fla. App. 1979). The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the latter decision, carefully elaborating the difference between a reversal stemming from insufficient evidence and one prompted by the weight of the evidence. 397 So. 2d 1120 (1981) (per curiam) (Tibbs II). As the court explained, a conviction rests upon insufficient evidence when, even after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, no rational factfinder could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A reversal based on the weight of the evidence, on the other hand, draws the appellate court into questions of credibility. The "weight of the evidence" refers to "a determination [by] the trier of fact that

[ 457 U.S. Page 38]

     a greater amount of credible evidence supports one side of an issue or cause than the other." Id., at 1123.*fn11

The Florida Supreme Court then classified Tibbs I as a reversal resting on the weight of the evidence. Nadeau's testimony, if believed by the jury, was itself "legally sufficient to support Tibbs' conviction under Florida law." 397 So. 2d, at 1126. In deciding to upset Tibbs' conviction, the court in Tibbs I had stressed those "aspects of Nadeau's testimony which cast serious doubt on her believability," 397 So. 2d, at 1126, an approach that bespoke a reweighing of the evidence. "Only by stretching the point . . . ," the court concluded in Tibbs II, "could we possibly use an 'insufficiency' analysis to characterize our previous reversal of Tibbs' convictions." Ibid.*fn12

[ 457 U.S. Page 39]

     Having found that it could not "fairly conclude . . . that Tibbs' convictions were reversed on the grounds of evidentiary insufficiency," id., at 1127, the Florida Supreme Court held that Greene and Burks do not bar retrial. Those decisions, the court believed, as well as United States v. DiFrancesco, 449 U.S. 117 (1980), interpret the Double Jeopardy Clause to preclude retrial after reversal of a conviction only when the appellate court has set the conviction aside on the ground that the evidence was legally insufficient to support conviction. Other reversals, including those based on the weight of the evidence or made in the "interests of justice," do not implicate double jeopardy principles.*fn13 We granted certiorari to review this interpretation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. 454 U.S. 963 (1981).

II

In 1896, this Court ruled that a criminal defendant who successfully appeals a judgment against him "may be tried anew . . . for the same offence of which he had been convicted."

[ 457 U.S. Page 40]

     legally insufficient" to support conviction. Burks, 437 U.S., at 18; Greene, 437 U.S., at 24. This standard, we explained, "means that the government's case was so lacking that it should not have even been submitted to the jury." Burks, 437 U.S., at 16 (emphasis in original). A conviction will survive review, we suggested, whenever "the evidence and inferences therefrom most favorable to the prosecution would warrant the jury's finding the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Ibid. See also Greene, supra, at 25. In sum, we noted that the rule barring retrial would be "confined to cases where the prosecution's failure is clear." Burks, supra, at 17.

So defined, the exception recognized in Burks and Greene rests upon two closely related policies. First, the Double Jeopardy Clause attaches special weight to judgments of acquittal.*fn15 A verdict of not guilty, whether rendered by the jury or directed by the trial judge, absolutely shields the defendant from retrial.*fn16 A reversal based on the insufficiency of the evidence has the same effect because it means that no rational factfinder could have voted to convict the defendant.

Second, Burks and Greene implement the principle that "[the] Double Jeopardy Clause forbids a second trial for the purpose of affording the prosecution another opportunity to supply evidence which it failed to muster in the first proceeding." Burks, supra, at 11. This prohibition, lying at the core of the Clause's protections, prevents the State from honing its trial strategies and perfecting its evidence through successive attempts at conviction. Repeated prosecutorial sallies would unfairly burden the defendant and create a risk of conviction through sheer governmental perseverance.

[ 457 U.S. Page 42]

     See Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187-188 (1957); United States v. DiFrancesco, 449 U.S., at 130. For this reason, when a reversal rests upon the ground that the prosecution has failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove its case, the Double Jeopardy Clause bars the prosecutor from making a second attempt at conviction.

As we suggested just last Term, these policies do not have the same force when a judge disagrees with a jury's resolution of conflicting evidence and concludes that a guilty verdict is against the weight of the evidence. See Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 44-45, n. 5 (1981). A reversal on this ground, unlike a reversal based on insufficient evidence, does not mean that acquittal was the only proper verdict. Instead, the appellate court sits as a "thirteenth juror" and disagrees with the jury's resolution of the conflicting testimony. This difference of opinion no more signifies acquittal than does a disagreement among the jurors themselves. A deadlocked jury, we consistently have recognized, does not result in an acquittal barring retrial under the Double Jeopardy Clause.*fn17 Similarly, an appellate court's disagreement with the jurors' weighing of the evidence does not require the special deference accorded verdicts of acquittal.

A reversal based on the weight of the evidence, moreover, can occur only after the State both has presented sufficient

[ 457 U.S. Page 43]

     evidence to support conviction and has persuaded the jury to convict. The reversal simply affords the defendant a second opportunity to seek a favorable judgment.*fn18 An appellate court's decision to give the defendant this second chance does not create "an unacceptably high risk that the Government, with its superior resources, [will] wear down [the] defendant" and obtain conviction solely through its persistence. United States v. DiFrancesco, supra, at 130.*fn19

[ 457 U.S. Page 44]

     While an appellate ruling based on the weight of the evidence thus fails to implicate the policies supporting Burks and Greene, it does involve the usual principles permitting retrial after a defendant's successful appeal. Just as the Double Jeopardy Clause does not require society to pay the high price of freeing every defendant whose first trial was tainted by prosecutorial error, it should not exact the price of immunity for every defendant who persuades an appellate panel to overturn an error-free conviction and give him a second chance at acquittal. Giving the defendant this second opportunity, when the evidence is sufficient to support the first verdict, hardly amounts to "governmental oppression of the sort against which the Double Jeopardy Clause was intended to protect." United States v. Scott, 437 U.S., at 91.

Petitioner Tibbs resists these arguments on the grounds that a distinction between the weight and the sufficiency of the evidence is unworkable and that such a distinction will undermine the Burks rule by encouraging appellate judges to base reversals on the weight, rather than the sufficiency, of the evidence. We find these arguments unpersuasive for two reasons. First, trial and appellate judges commonly distinguish between the weight and the sufficiency of the evidence.*fn20 We have no reason to believe that today's decision

[ 457 U.S. Page 45]

     will erode the demonstrated ability of judges to distinguish legally insufficient evidence from evidence that rationally supports a verdict.

Second, our decision in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979), places some restraints on the power of appellate courts to mask reversals based on legally insufficient evidence as reversals grounded on the weight of the evidence. We held in Jackson that the Due Process Clause forbids any conviction based on evidence insufficient to persuade a rational factfinder of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Due Process Clause, in other words, sets a lower limit on an appellate court's definition of evidentiary sufficiency.*fn21 This limit, together with our belief that state appellate judges faithfully honor their obligations to enforce applicable state and federal laws, persuades us that today's ruling will not undermine Burks. In sum, we conclude that the Double Jeopardy Clause does not prevent an appellate court from granting a convicted defendant an opportunity to seek acquittal through a new trial.*fn22

[ 457 U.S. Page 46]

     III

We turn, finally, to apply the above principles to the present case. A close reading of Tibbs I suggests that the Florida Supreme Court overturned Tibbs' conviction because the evidence, although sufficient to support the jury's verdict, did not fully persuade the court of Tibbs' guilt. The plurality based its review on a Florida rule directing the court in capital cases to "review the evidence to determine if the interests of justice require a new trial, whether the insufficiency of the evidence is a ground of appeal or not." See n. 8, supra. References to the "interests of justice" and the justices' own "considerable doubt" of Tibbs' guilt mark the plurality's conclusions.*fn23 Those conclusions, moreover, stem from the justices' determination that Tibbs' testimony was more reliable than that of Nadeau. This resolution of conflicting testimony in a manner contrary to the jury's verdict is a hallmark of review based on evidentiary weight, not evidentiary sufficiency.

Any ambiguity in Tibbs I, finally, was resolved by the Florida Supreme Court in Tibbs II. Absent a conflict with the Due Process Clause, see n. 21, supra, that court's construction

[ 457 U.S. Page 47]

     of its prior opinion binds this Court.*fn24 In Tibbs II, of course, the court unequivocally held that Tibbs I was "one of those rare instances in which reversal was based on evidentiary weight." 397 So. 2d, at 1126 (per curiam). Thus, we conclude that Tibbs' successful appeal of his conviction rested upon a finding that the conviction was against the weight of the evidence, not upon a holding that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the verdict. Under these circumstances, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar retrial. Accordingly, the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court is

Affirmed.

Disposition

397 So. 2d 1120, affirmed.

JUSTICE WHITE, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE MARSHALL, and JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, dissenting.

As our cases in this area indicate, the meaning of the Double Jeopardy Clause is not always readily apparent. See, e. g., Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1 (1978) (overruling Bryan v. United States, 338 U.S. 552 (1950), Sapir v. United States, 348 U.S. 373 (1955), and Forman v. United States, 361 U.S. 416 (1960)); United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82 (1978) (overruling United States v. Jenkins, 420 U.S. 358 (1975)). For this reason, we should begin with a clear understanding of what is at stake in this case.

To sustain the convictions in this case, the prosecution was required to convince the Florida Supreme Court not only that the evidence was sufficient under the federal constitutional

[ 457 U.S. Page 48]

     standard announced in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979), but also that as a matter of state law, the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence. The Florida Supreme Court found the verdict to be against the weight of the evidence, thus holding that as a matter of state law the prosecution failed to present evidence adequate to sustain the convictions. Were the State to present this same evidence again, we must assume that once again the state courts would reverse any conviction that was based upon it.*fn* The State was not prevented from presenting its best case because of some incorrect procedural ruling by the trial court; rather, the State had a full opportunity to present its case, but that case was not adequate as a matter of state law. If the State presents no new evidence, the defendant has no new or additional burden to meet in successfully presenting a defense: He may stand on, i. e., repeat, what he has already presented. Thus, the only point of any second trial in this case is to allow the State to present additional evidence to bolster its case. If it does not have such evidence, reprosecution can serve no purpose other than harassment. The majority holds that reprosecution under these circumstances does not offend the double jeopardy provision of the Constitution. I do not agree.

The majority concedes, as it must under Burks, supra, that if the State's evidence failed to meet the federal due

[ 457 U.S. Page 49]

     process standard of evidentiary sufficiency, the Double Jeopardy Clause would bar reprosecution. The majority fails to explain why the State should be allowed another try where its proof has been held inadequate on state-law grounds, when it could not do so were it inadequate on federal-law grounds. In both cases the State has failed to present evidence adequate to sustain the conviction. The interests of the State in overcoming the evidentiary insufficiencies of its case would seem to be exactly the same in the two cases; the interests of the defendant in avoiding a second trial would also seem to be exactly the same in each case. Yet the majority holds that the Double Jeopardy Clause leads to different results in the two instances.

The majority offers two arguments in its attempt to distinguish the two cases. First, it emphasizes that the Double Jeopardy Clause "attaches special weight to judgments of acquittal." But in neither of the situations posited has there been a judgment of acquittal by the initial factfinder. In each instance, a reviewing court decides that, as a matter of law, the decision of the factfinder cannot stand. Second, the majority thinks it to be of some significance that when the evidence is determined to be insufficient as a matter of federal law, then no rational factfinder could have voted to convict on that basis. On the other hand, when the conviction is reversed on the basis of the state-law rule applying a "weight of the evidence" test, that "does not mean that acquittal was the only proper verdict." Ante, at 42. The constraints of the Double Jeopardy Clause, however, do not depend upon a determination that an "acquittal was the only proper verdict." The fact remains that the State failed to prove the defendant guilty in accordance with the evidentiary requirements of state law.

The majority opinion rests finally on a mischaracterization of the appellate court's ruling: "The reversal simply affords the defendant a second opportunity to seek a favorable judgment." Ante, at 43. But as I described above, it is not

[ 457 U.S. Page 50]

     the defendant who has the burden of coming up with a new case on retrial; it is the prosecution. The defendant has already demonstrated that a conviction based on the State's case, as so far developed, is "against the weight of the evidence."

Having concluded that the majority opinion fails to justify the distinction it draws, I too turn to "the policies supporting the Double Jeopardy Clause," ante, at 32, to determine whether this distinction is relevant. I do not believe it necessary to look beyond the articulation of those policies in the majority opinion itself to conclude that it is not:

"Burks and Greene [v. Massey, 437 U.S. 19 (1978)] implement the principle that '[the] Double Jeopardy Clause forbids a second trial for the purpose of affording the prosecution another opportunity to supply evidence which it failed to muster in the first proceeding.' This prohibition, lying at the core of the Clause's protections, prevents the State from honing its trial strategies and perfecting its evidence through successive attempts at conviction. Repeated prosecutorial sallies would unfairly burden the defendant and create a risk of conviction through sheer governmental perseverance." Ante, at 41 (citations omitted).

These same policy considerations are at stake when a conviction is reversed on state-law grounds going to the adequacy of the evidence. The relevant question is whether the reversal is "'due to a failure of proof at trial' where the State received a 'fair opportunity to offer whatever proof it could assemble.'" Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 43 (1981) (quoting Burks, 437 U.S., at 16). That the proof fails on state-law, rather than federal-law, grounds is immaterial to these policy considerations. Thus, the relevant distinction is between reversals based on evidentiary grounds and those based on procedural grounds: Only in the latter case can the State proceed to retrial without offending the deeply ingrained

[ 457 U.S. Page 51]

     principle that "the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense." Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187 (1957).

It must also be noted that judges having doubts about the sufficiency of the evidence under the Jackson standard may prefer to reverse on the weight of the evidence, since retrial would not be barred. If done recurringly, this would undermine Jackson, Burks, and Greene. But under Burks and Greene, retrial is foreclosed by the Double Jeopardy Clause if the evidence fails to satisfy the Jackson standard. Hence, the Jackson issue cannot be avoided; if retrial is to be had, the evidence must be found to be legally sufficient, as a matter of federal law, to sustain the jury verdict. That finding must accompany any reversal based on the weight of the evidence if retrial is contemplated. The upshot may be that appellate judges will not be inclined to proclaim the evidence in a case to be legally sufficient, yet go on to disagree with the jury and the trial court by reversing on weight-of-the-evidence grounds. Indeed, in this case, the Florida Supreme Court declared that prospect to be an anomaly and a mistake and proclaimed that it would never again put itself in this position.

With all due respect, I dissent.

Counsel FOOTNOTES

* Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Jensen, Samuel J. Alioto, Jr., and John Fichter De Pue filed a brief for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance.


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