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June 22, 2006

More SCOTUS late term work

As detailed here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court issued a lot of decisions today.  But the only one that I think might be real significant for sentencing fans is Dixon:

In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that it does not violate due process for a jury in a criminal trial to be instructed that an accused claiming the defense of duress or coecion has the burden to prove that defense by a preponderance of the evidence. The case was Dixon v. U.S. (05-7053).

I have to go speak at my panel now, but I hope to get a chance to read and comment on Dixon before too long.  Of course, readers are encouraged to get a running start in the comments.

June 22, 2006 at 10:49 AM | Permalink


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Same old same old: Is "duress" a lack of intent or an affirmative defense? If the former, then the prosecustion must disprove it BRD but if the latter then the defendant must persuade BPE. The Court says it has always been the latter and there is no reason to switch now.

The dissent is only a half-hearted one about the lack of a clear legislative intent (these were post-common-law federal crimes) suggesting a sort of lenity doctrine on the issue.

Posted by: KipEsquire | Jun 22, 2006 12:05:19 PM

I think Kip is right.

In a general intent crime, like if you argued for an excuse based on coercion when you murder someone at the point of a gun, you certainly intended to pull the trigger. There was mens rea for the act itself, and the result. We don't want to convict, however, if there was no culpability despite the presence of all the elements.

Duress or coercion should indeed be affirmative defenses. There's no need to plead either one if the defense argument is that the prosecution cannot prove BaRD that there was intent at all. That's not an affirmative defense; it's the basic defense which leaves the primary burden where it belongs.

Same with the whole business (propounded by Prof. Stephen J. Morse of Penn, among others) of diminished capacity not really being a "defense" in the usual sense. It's a statement that, due to dim cap of whatever sort, the accused failed to form the requisite intent, and so didn't commit the crime (or committed a lesser included offense). Man not murder, perhaps. Reckless risk creation not a higher level of homicide. Etc.

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Jun 22, 2006 4:42:14 PM

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