BARNES V. UNITED STATES, 412 U. S. 837 (1973)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837 (1973)

Barnes v. United States

No. 72-5443

Argued March 20, 1973

Decided June 18, 1973

412 U.S. 837


Petitioner was convicted of possessing United States Treasury checks stolen from the mails, knowing them to be stolen; forging; and uttering the checks, knowing the endorsements to be forged. The District Court instructed the jury that

"[p]ossession of recently stolen property, if not satisfactorily explained, is ordinarily a circumstance from which you may reasonably draw the inference and find, in the light of the surrounding circumstances shown by the evidence in the case, that the person in possession knew the property had been stolen."

The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding no lack of "rational connection" between unexplained possession of recently stolen property and knowledge that the property was stolen.

Held: The instruction comports with due process. Pp. 412 U. S. 841-847.

(a) If a statutory inference submitted to the jury as sufficient to support conviction satisfies the reasonable doubt standard (i.e., the evidence necessary to invoke the inference is sufficient for a rational juror to find the inferred fact beyond a reasonable doubt) as well as the more-likely than-not standard, then it clearly accords with due process. Pp. 841-843.

(b) Here, where the evidence established that petitioner possessed recently stolen Treasury checks payable to persons he did not know and it provided no plausible explanation for such possession consistent with innocence, the traditional common law inference satisfies the reasonable doubt standard, the most stringent standard applied by the Court in judging permissive criminal law inferences, and, therefore, comports with due process. Pp. 412 U. S. 843-846.

(c) Although the introduction of any evidence, direct or circumstantial, tending to implicate the defendant in the alleged crime increases the pressure on him to testify, the mere massing of evidence against him cannot be regarded as a violation of his privilege against self-incrimination. Yee Ham v. United States, 268 U. S. 178, 268 U. S. 185. Pp. 412 U. S. 846-847.

(d) In light of its legislative history and consistent judicial construction, 18 U.S.C. § 1708 requires only knowledge that the

Page 412 U. S. 838

checks were stolen, and not knowledge that they were stolen from the mails. P. 412 U. S. 847.

466 F.2d 1361, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 412 U. S. 848. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 412 U. S. 852.

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