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KENTUCKY V. WHORTON, 441 U. S. 786 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kentucky v. Whorton, 441 U.S. 786 (1979)

Kentucky v. Whorton

No. 78-749

Argued April 16, 1979

Decided May 21, 1979

441 U.S. 786


Upon trial in a Kentucky state court, respondent was convicted of several offenses. The trial court refused to give respondent's requested jury instruction on the presumption of innocence, but did give an instruction to the effect that the jury could return a guilty verdict only if they found beyond a reasonable doubt that respondent had committed the acts charged with the requisite criminal intent. Relying on its understanding of Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U. S. 478 -- where this Court reversed a conviction resulting from a trial in which the judge had refused to give a requested instruction on the presumption of innocence -- the Kentucky Supreme Court held that such an instruction is constitutionally required in all criminal trials, and that the failure of a trial judge to give it cannot be harmless error.

Held: The Kentucky Supreme Court erred in interpreting Taylor, supra, as holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment absolutely requires that an instruction on the presumption of innocence must be given in every criminal case. The failure to give such an instruction when requested does not, in and of itself, violate the Constitution. Under Taylor, such a failure must be evaluated in light of the totality of the circumstances -- including all the instructions, the arguments of counsel, whether the weight of the evidence was overwhelming, and other relevant factors -- to determine whether the defendant received a constitutionally fair trial.

570 S.W.2d 627, reversed and remanded.

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