Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1 (1978)

2012-01-13 01:30:17

At the robbery trial of David Burks, the defendant presented three unchallenged witnesses testifying that he was insane. In response, the government presented two expert witnesses who did not express definite opinions. The jury nonetheless convicted Burks. He asked for a new trial and argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdict. The Sixth Circuit reversed the conviction, agreeing that Tennessee had not fulfilled its burden of proving sanity, but rather than terminating the case it asked the District Court to decide whether a directed acquittal should be entered or a new trial ordered. Burks contended that the double jeopardy clause precluded another trial because the appellate court found the evidence insufficient, which was the equivalent of a judgment of acquittal.

The Supreme Court reversed, remanding Burks for a judgment of acquittal. The Court held that the prosecution could not have another opportunity to convict after it had been given a full and fair opportunity to do so. The Court determined that it made no difference that the determination of evidentiary insufficiency was made by the appellate court because the double jeopardy considerations were identical.

Burks establishes that the double jeopardy clause precludes a second trial once the reviewing court finds the evidence legally insufficient. Burks expressly overrules Bryan v. United States, Yates v. United States, and Forman v. United States. Also, any earlier decisions suggesting that moving for a new trial waives one’s right to a judgment of acquittal on the basis of evidentiary insufficiency were also overruled.


Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Bryan v. United States, 338 U.S. 552 (1950) 
  • Forman v. United States, 361 U.S. 416 (1960) 
  • Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957) 

See also Double Jeopardy (V): Early History, Background, Framing; Proof beyond a Reasonable Doubt