6.26.2006

Supreme Court Resolves Split Re Burden of Proof for Duress Defense

Per Dixon v. U.S., No. 05–7053 [from the Syllabus]:

Petitioner was charged with receiving a firearm while under indictment in violation of 18 U. S. C. §922(n) and with making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm in violation of §922(a)(6). She admitted at trial that she knew she was under indictment when she purchased the firearms and knew that doing so was a crime, but claimed that she was acting under duress because her boyfriend had threatened to harm her and her daughters if she did not buy the guns for him. Bound by Fifth Circuit precedent, the District Court declined her request for a jury instruction placing upon the Government the burden to disprove, beyond a reasonable doubt, her duress defense. Instead, the jury was instructed that petitioner had the burden to establish her defense by a preponderance of the evidence. She was convicted, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Held:

1. The jury instructions did not run afoul of the Due Process Clause. . . .

2. Modern common law does not require the Government to bear the burden of disproving petitioner’s duress defense beyond a reasonable doubt. . . .

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Alito, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Scalia, J., joined. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Souter, J., joined.

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