SPENCER V. TEXAS, 385 U. S. 554 (1967)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554 (1967)

Spencer v. Texas

No. 68

Argued October 17-18, 1966

Decided January 23, 1967*

385 U.S. 554


Petitioners, who were convicted of felonies in Texas courts, challenge the then-existing procedure under Texas' recidivist or habitual criminal statutes whereby, through allegations in the indictment and the introduction of proof concerning a defendant's past convictions, the jury trying the pending criminal charge was fully informed of such past convictions for sentencing purposes, but was also charged by the court that such matters were not to be taken into account in assessing the defendant's guilt or innocence under the current indictment. Petitioners claim that this procedure violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held: Texas' use of prior convictions in the petitioners' current criminal trials did not offend the provisions of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 385 U. S. 559-569.

(a) The recidivist statutes are not unconstitutional. Pp. 385 U. S. 559-560.

(b) The States have wide leeway in dividing responsibility between judge and jury in criminal cases, and it is not unconstitutional for the jury to assess the punishment in a criminal case, or to make findings as to a prior conviction even though enhanced punishment is left to be imposed by the judge. P. 385 U. S. 560.

(c) As in other instances where evidence of prior convictions has traditionally been admitted to serve a specific purpose, the possibility of prejudice here is outweighed by the validity of the State's purpose in permitting introduction of the evidence. Pp. 385 U. S. 560-561.

(d) The defendants' interests were protected by limiting instructions, and by the discretion of the trial judge to limit or forbid admission of particularly prejudicial evidence. P. 385 U. S. 561.

(e) Enforcement of recidivist statutes in a one-stage trial serves a valid state purpose. P. 385 U. S. 563.

(f) Neither the specific provisions of the Constitution nor cases decided under the Due Process Clause establish this Court as a

Page 385 U. S. 555

rulemaking organ for the promulgation of state rules of criminal procedure. Jackson v. Denno, 378 U. S. 368, distinguished. Pp. 385 U. S. 564-565.

(g) The States have power to promulgate their own rules of evidence to try their state-created crimes in their own courts, as long as their rules are not prohibited by the Federal Constitution, which these rules are not. Pp. 385 U. S. 568-569.

No. 68, appeal dismissed and certiorari granted; 389 S.W.2d 304, affirmed; No. 61, 387 S.W.2d 411, No. 70, 343 F.2d 723, affirmed.

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