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U.S. Supreme Court
BENTON v. MARYLAND, 395 U.S. 784 (1969)


  1. Page 786 The increase in petitioner's sentence on the burglary count from 10 to 15 years is presently the subject of litigation on federal habeas corpus in the lower federal courts. A federal district court ordered the State to resentence petitioner, Benton v. Copinger, 291 F. Supp. 141 (D.C. Md. 1968), and an appeal brought by the State is presently pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
  2. Page 787 See Part V, infra. Of course, if the error infected both counts upon which petitioner was convicted, there would be no concurrent sentence problem at all. We do not, however, resolve the question of whether the burglary conviction was "tainted."
  3. Page 788 The length of that sentence is presently a matter in dispute, see n. 1, supra.
  4. Page 788 Grant v. Astle, 2 Doug. 722, 99 Eng. Rep. 459 (1781); Peake v. Oldham, 1 Cowp. 275, 98 Eng. Rep. 1083 (1775); Rex v. Benfield, 2 Burr. 980, 97 Eng. Rep. 664 (1760).
  5. Page 790 Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576, 579-580, n. 3 (1969); Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234, 237-238 (1968); Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 633-634, n. 2 (1968).
  6. Page 790 The majority rule is, apparently, that all convictions handed down at the same time count as a single conviction for the purpose of habitual offender statutes, but a few States follow the stricter rule described in the text. The relevant cases are collected at 24 A. L. R.2d 1262-1267 (1952), and in the accompanying supplements.
  7. Page 791 In Sibron we noted the inadequacies of a procedure which postpones appellate review until it is proposed to subject the convicted person to collateral consequences. 392 U.S., at 56-57. For the reasons there stated, an attempt to impose collateral consequences after an initial refusal to review a conviction on direct appeal because of the concurrent sentence doctrine may well raise some constitutional problems. That issue is not, however, presented by this case, and accordingly we express no opinion on it.
  8. Page 792 Compare Meade v. State, 198 Md. 489, 84 A.2d 892 (1951), with Marks v. State, 230 Md. 108, 185 A.2d 909 (1962).
  9. Page 792 See n. 7, supra.
  10. Page 793 See n. 1, supra, and Part V, infra.
  11. Page 793 A stronger case for total abolition of the concurrent sentence doctrine may well be made in cases on direct appeal, as compared to convictions attacked collaterally by suits for post-conviction relief. Because of our disposition of this case, we need not reach this question.
  12. Page 794 Quoting from Ohio ex rel. Eaton v. Price, 364 U.S. 263, 275 (1960) (opinion of BRENNAN, J.).
  13. Page 794 A list of those Bill of Rights guarantees which have been held "incorporated" in the Fourteenth Amendment can be found in Duncan, supra, at 148.
  14. Page 795 J. Sigler, Double Jeopardy 1-37 (1969).
  15. Page 795 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries *335.
  16. Page 795 Sigler, supra, n. 14, at 78-79; Brock v. North Carolina, 344 U.S. 424, 435, n. 6 (1953) (Vinson, C. J., dissenting).
  17. Page 798 There is no danger here that the jury might have been tempted to compromise on a lesser charge because of an erroneous retrial on a greater charge. See United States ex rel. Hetenyi v. Wilkins, 348 F.2d 844, 866 (C.A. 2d Cir. 1965), cert. denied, sub nom. Mancusi v. Hetenyi, 383 U.S. 913 (1966). Larceny is a lesser offense than burglary.
  18. Page 798 See Note, Individualized Criminal Justice in the Supreme Court: A Study of Dispositional Decision Making, 81 Harv. L. Rev. 1260, 1272-1273 (1968).

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.

While I agree with the Court's extension of the prohibition against double jeopardy to the States, and with the Court's conclusion that the concurrent sentence rule constitutes no jurisdictional bar, additional comment on the wisdom and effects of applying a concurrent sentence rule seems appropriate.

In a time of increasingly congested judicial dockets, often requiring long delays before trial and upon appeal, Page 799 judicial resources have become scarce. Where a man has been convicted on several counts and sentenced concurrently upon each, and where judicial review of one count sustains its validity, the need for review of the other counts is not a pressing one since, regardless of the outcome, the prisoner will remain in jail for the same length of time under the count upheld. Rather than permit other cases to languish while careful review of these redundant counts is carried to its futile conclusion, judicial resources might be better employed by moving on to more pressing business. This is not a rule of convenience to the judge, but rather of fairness to other litigants.

This is not to say, however, that the fact of conviction under the unreviewed counts could never be of importance to the prisoner. After his release it is possible they might be used against him in a recidivism prosecution, or used to impeach his testimony in a trial for another offense, to pick two obvious examples. Nevertheless, the unreviewed counts are, by hypothesis, not of immediate importance to his confinement, and our experience gives us no indication that they are frequently of such importance later that the concurrent sentence rule should not be applied.

The unreviewed count is often one which, but for the concurrent sentence rule, the prisoner would have a right to challenge, either directly or on collateral attack. Arguably, to deny him that right when another man, convicted after a separate trial on each count, or sentenced consecutively, could not be denied that right under the applicable state or federal law, raises an equal protection question. But clearly so long as the denied review is of no significance to the prisoner the denial of equal protection is not invidious but only theoretical.

But should a situation arise in which the convict can demonstrate that the unreviewed count is being used Page 800 against him, so as to work some harm to him additional to that stemming from the reviewed count, his grievance becomes real. At that point it may be that the unreviewed count may not be used against him, unless it is determined that the lack of earlier review can be cured by then supplying the convict the review to which he would earlier have been entitled but for his concurrent sentence on another count. For myself, postponed review, a question which the Court reserves (ante, at 791, n. 7), presents no insuperable difficulties. Appellate review is always conducted on a cold record, and collateral proceedings frequently deal with a stale record and stale facts. There is nothing inherently unfair in permitting the record to become colder while it is irrelevant to any human need, and other litigants' demands are more pressing. Whether reversal on such a record, after delayed review, would permit retrial or a hearing on a claim involving, for example, a coerced confession, is yet a further question which there is no present need to address. Should a satisfactory hearing or retrial prove impossible this would be an unfortunate byproduct of an initially crowded docket.

For the foregoing reasons, I agree with the Court that the concurrent sentence rule, while not of jurisdictional dimensions, should be preserved as a matter of proper judicial administration both on direct appeal and collateral attack, although at least in theory it raises a number of questions concerning the subsequent effects of the unreviewed counts. It may be that where it can be reliably predicted in a particular case that each count would entail concrete prejudicial consequences at a later date, the appellate court at the time of initial review would prefer to deal with all counts rather than to apply the concurrent sentence rule. Page 801