Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684 (1975)

2012-08-06 16:18:43

Mullaney v. Wilbur is one of a series of cases decided in the 1970s, including In re Winship (397 U.S. 358, 1970) and Sandstrom (442 U.S. 510, 1979), that strengthened protection to defendants by strictly construing the due-process requirement that the government bear the Burden of Proof in criminal cases. In Mullaney the Supreme Court reviewed a Maine statute that created a conclusive presumption that a defendant had acted with malice aforethought if the government proved the killing was unlawful and intentional. That conclusive presumption could be rebutted, but only if the defendant proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he acted in the heat of passion on sudden provocation.

In Mullaney the defendant claimed he killed Claude Hebert in the latter’s hotel room because Hebert made a homosexual advance toward him. He argued this constituted a sudden provocation. However, he offered no evidence for the defense other than what was contained in the police report offered by the prosecution. He was convicted. The Court unanimously held that Maine’s conclusive presumption was unconstitutional because it transferred the Burden of Proof from the state to the defendant on an essential element of the crime—state of mind. The significance of Mullaney was diminished by a later decision in Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977), in which the Court declined to apply Mullaney to a statute providing an affirmative defense of extreme emotional distress. Nevertheless, Mullaney continues to stand for the proposition that the government has the Burden of Proof on all elements of the crime charged.


References and Further Reading

  • Bibas, Stephanos, Judicial Fact-Finding and Sentence Enhancements in a World of Guilty Pleas, Yale Law Journal 110 (2001): 1097–1185.
  • Leahy, William J., and M. Speer Brownlow, An End to Burden-Shifting Presumptions: The Signal Criminal Law Achievement of the Post-Warren Court, Boston Bar Journal 35 (Nov./Dec. 1991): 10–14.
  • Mueller, Christopher B., and Laird C. Kirkpatrick. Evidence, 3rd ed. New York: Aspen Publishers, 2003, pp. 130–149.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970)
  • Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977)
  • Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979)

See also Due Process; In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970); Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977); Proof beyond a Reasonable Doubt; Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979); Self-Defense