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U.S. Supreme Court

Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637 (1974)

Donnelly v. DeChristoforo

No. 72-1570

Argued February 20, 1974

Decided May 13, 1974

416 U.S. 637


During the course of a joint first-degree murder trial, respondent's codefendant pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, of which the trial court advised the jury, stating that the trial against respondent would continue. In his summation, the prosecutor stated that respondent and his counsel had said that they

"hope that you find him not guilty. I quite frankly think that they hope that you find him guilty of something a little less than first-degree murder."

Respondent's counsel objected, and later sought an instruction that the remark was improper, and should be disregarded. In its instructions, the trial court, after reemphasizing the prosecutor's statement that his argument was not evidence, declared that the challenged remark was unsupported, and admonished the jury to ignore it. Respondent was convicted of first-degree murder. The State's highest court ruled that the prosecutor's remark, though improper, was not so prejudicial as to warrant a mistrial, and that the trial court's instruction sufficed to safeguard respondent's rights. The District Court denied respondent's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the challenged comment implied that respondent, like his codefendant, had offered to plead guilty to a lesser offense, but was refused, and that the comment was thus potentially so misleading and prejudicial as to deprive respondent of a constitutionally fair trial.

Held: In the circumstances of this case, where the prosecutor's ambiguous remark in the course of an extended trial was followed by the trial court's specific disapproving instructions, no prejudice amounting to a denial of constitutional due process was shown. Miler v. Pate, 386 U. S. 1; Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83, distinguished. Pp. 416 U. S. 642-648.

473 F.2d 1236, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which WHITE, J., chanrobles.com-red

Page 416 U. S. 638

joined, post, p. 416 U. S. 648. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 416 U. S. 648.


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