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Carlisle v. United States

April 29, 1996

CHARLES CARLISLE, PETITIONER

v.

UNITED STATES



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

No. 94-9247.

Argued January 16, 1996

Decided April 29, 1996

At his trial on a federal marijuana charge, petitioner filed his motion for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) after the jury returned a guilty verdict and was discharged. The District Court granted the motion even though it was filed one day outside the time limit prescribed by Rule 29(c), which provides, inter alia, that "[i]f the jury returns a verdict of guilty . . ., a motion for judgment of acquittal may be made or renewed within 7 days after the jury is discharged or within such further time as the court may fix during the 7-day period." In reversing and remanding for reinstatement of the verdict and for sentencing, the Sixth Circuit held that under Rule 29 a district court has no jurisdiction to grant an untimely motion for judgment of acquittal, or to enter such a judgment sua sponte after submission of the case to the jury.

Held: The District Court had no authority to grant petitioner's motion for judgment of acquittal filed one day outside the Rule 29(c) time limit. Pp. 3-18.

(a) The Rules do not permit the granting of an untimely postverdict motion for judgment of acquittal. Rule 29(c)'s text, when read with Rule 45(b)'s statement that "the court may not extend the time for taking any action under Rul[e] 29 . . . except to the extent and under the conditions stated in [the Rule]," is plain and unambiguous: If, as in this case, a guilty verdict is returned, a motion for judgment of acquittal must be filed, either within seven days of the jury's discharge, or within an extended period fixed by the court during that 7-day period. Furthermore, in light of Rule 29(c)'s clarity, petitioner cannot rely either on Rule 2, which requires that ambiguous Rules "be construed to secure simplicity in procedure, fairness in administration and the elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay," or on Rule 57, which allows district courts discretion to regulate practice when there is no controlling law. Pp. 3-9.

(b) This Court rejects petitioner's invocation of courts' "inherent supervisory power" as alternative authority for the District Court's action. Whatever the scope of federal courts' inherent power to formulate procedural rules not specifically required by the Constitution or the Congress, it does not include the power to develop rules that circumvent or conflict with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. See, e.g., Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States, 487 U. S. 250, 254-255. Whether the District Court's action is described as the granting of an untimely motion, or the sua sponte entry of a judgment of acquittal, it contradicted Rule 29(c)'s plain language and effectively annulled the 7-day filing limit. The cautionary principle that the Court will not lightly assume that the Rules mean to depart from established principles does not apply in this case, because prior to the enactment of Rule 29, there was no long, unquestioned power of federal district courts to acquit for insufficient evidence sua sponte, after return of a guilty verdict. Pp. 9-13.

(c) The Court also rejects petitioner's remaining arguments: (1) that the District Court had power to order acquittal in this case under the All Writs Act, 28 U. S. C. Section(s) 1651, through the writ of coram nobis; (2) that the failure to allow the District Court to order acquittal would violate the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause; and (3) that prohibiting a district court from granting an acquittal motion filed only one day late will lead to needless appeals and habeas corpus proceedings. Pp. 13-14.

(d) The Court rebuts arguments put forward by the dissent, including the proposition that permissive rules do not withdraw pre-existing inherent powers, and the dissent's reliance on this Court's precedents to support the existence of the "inherent power" petitioner invokes. Pp. 15-18. Justice Scalia

On Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

This case presents the question whether a district court has authority to grant a post-verdict motion for judgment of acquittal filed one day outside the time limit prescribed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c).

I.

Petitioner Charles Carlisle, along with several co-defendants, was tried by jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U. S. C. Section(s) 841, 846, 84 Stat. 1260, 1265. He did not move during the trial for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a). On July 13, 1993, the jury returned a guilty verdict and was discharged. On July 23, 1993, Carlisle filed a "Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c)," arguing that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. App. 6-9. Rule 29(c) provides that "a motion for judgment of acquittal may be made or renewed within 7 days after the jury is discharged or within such further time as the court may fix during the 7-day period." Excluding the intermediate Saturday and Sunday (as Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 45(a) requires), the 7-day period in this case ended on July 22, 1993. The United States' response to Carlisle's motion argued that it should be denied as untimely and, alternatively, that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. The District Court denied Carlisle's motion on August 19, 1993. Its written opinion did not address the timeliness issue, but concluded that the evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Carlisle knew about, and knowingly and voluntarily joined, the charged conspiracy.

When Carlisle appeared for sentencing on October 14, 1993, the District Court announced that it was reversing its ruling. When it made its decision in August, the court said, it had prepared two opinions, one granting and one denying the motion, and it had now decided to substitute the former for the latter. The court subsequently entered an order that (i) withdrew the opinion and order denying the motion to acquit and (ii) granted "Carlisle's motion for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29(c), filed July 23, 1993." App. 45. An opinion accompanying the order concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Carlisle knowingly and voluntarily joined the conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana. In a footnote, the opinion acknowledged that the motion for judgment of acquittal was filed one day late, but concluded:

". . . I can conceive of no prejudice to the United States which will result from consideration of a motion that is one day lat[e] in this case. Because I believe that refusal to hear this motion would result in grave injustice, and because [Rule 29(c)] permits the Court to extend the deadline, I will consider this motion as if it were filed in a timely manner." Id., at 37.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of acquittal and remanded to the District Court for reinstatement of the jury's verdict and for sentencing. It held that under Rule 29 a district court has no jurisdiction to grant an untimely motion for judgment of acquittal, and that a district court has no jurisdiction to enter a judgment of acquittal sua sponte after the case has been submitted to the jury. 48 F. 3d 190, 192 (1995). We granted certiorari.

II.

Petitioner argues that district courts "should be given the power to go outside the strict time limits of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c)" when (1) there is a claim that the defendant was legally innocent, (2) the motion is filed prior to sentencing, and (3) the motion was not timely filed because of attorney error. Brief for Petitioner 8. Petitioner seeks to root this argument in, among other places, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Rule 29 is reproduced in its entirety in the margin. *fn1 Subsection (c) provides, in relevant part, that "[i]f the jury returns a verdict of guilty . . ., a motion for judgment of acquittal may be made or renewed within 7 days after the jury is discharged or within such further time as the court may fix during the 7-day period." Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 45(b) provides that whereas certain untimely acts may be accorded validity upon a showing of excusable neglect, "the court may not extend the time for taking any action under Rul[e] 29 . . . except to the extent and under the conditions stated in [the Rule]." These Rules are plain and unambiguous. If, as in this case, a guilty verdict is returned, a motion for judgment of acquittal must be filed, either within seven days of the jury's discharge, or within an extended period fixed by the court during that 7-day period. There is simply no room in the text of Rules 29 and 45(b) for the granting of an untimely post-verdict motion for judgment of acquittal, regardless of whether the motion is accompanied by a claim of legal innocence, is filed before sentencing, or was filed late because of attorney error.

Unable to offer any reading of Rule 29(c) that would permit an untimely motion for judgment of acquittal to be granted, Carlisle contends that Rule 29(a) gives a district court authority to enter a judgment of acquittal sua sponte at any time before sentencing. Rule 29(a), entitled "Motion Before Submission to Jury," provides in relevant part:

"The court on motion of a defendant or of its own motion shall order the entry of judgment of acquittal of one or more offenses charged in the indictment or information after the evidence on either side is closed if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of such offense or offenses."

It would be quite a surprise to find a district court's sua sponte power to grant judgment of acquittal after submission of the case to the jury hidden away in a provision entitled "Motion Before Submission to Jury." We are not inclined to adopt an interpretation that creates such a surprise unless the intent that the text exceed its caption is clear. Here, to the contrary, the structure of Rule 29 indicates that subsection (a) is limited as its caption says.

Petitioner's proposed reading would create an odd system in which defense counsel could move for judgment of acquittal for only seven days after the jury's discharge, but the court's power to enter such a judgment would linger. In United States v. Smith, 331 U. S. 469 (1947), we declined to read former Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, which placed a 5-day limit on the making of a motion for new trial, as "permit[ting] the judge to order retrial without request and at any time," 331 U. S., at 473. "[I]t would be a strange rule," we said, "which deprived a judge of power to do what was asked when request was made by the person most concerned, and yet allowed him to act without petition," and such an arrangement "would almost certainly subject trial judges to private appeals or application by counsel or friends of one convicted," id., at 474, 475. The same is true here. *fn2 In addition, petitioner's reading makes a farce of subsection (b) of Rule 29, which provides that a court may reserve decision on the motion for judgment of acquittal and decide it after submission to the jury. There would be no need for this procedure if, even without reserving, the court had continuing power to grant judgment of acquittal on its own. In sum, even without the captions (and a fortiori with them) it is clear that subsections (a) and (b) of Rule 29 pertain to motions made before submission, and subsections (c) and (d) to motions made after discharge.

The Government offers an alternate theory of a court's power to act sua sponte under Rule 29: Because Rule 29(a) refers to both a "motion of a defendant" and a court's "own motion," whereas Rule 29(c) refers only to "a motion" simpliciter, the latter must refer to motions both of defendants and of courts, permitting both such "motions" to be made within seven days after the jury's discharge. We do not find this reading plausible. Rule 29(c) not only provides that "a motion for judgment of acquittal" may be made or renewed within seven days after the jury is discharged. It goes on to provide, in its second and third sentences: "If a verdict of guilty is returned the court may on such motion set aside the verdict and enter judgment of acquittal. If no verdict is returned the court may enter judgment of acquittal." The phrase "on such motion" is notably absent from the third sentence-conveying the idea that, where a jury has not returned a verdict, a court can act without motion, but where a jury has returned a guilty verdict, it cannot. But if "on such motion" includes action taken by a court on its own initiative, the limiting phrase "on such motion" in the second sentence has no effect, and a court may act on its own whether or not a verdict has been returned. That is to say, the inclusion of the phrase "on such motion" in one sentence but not in the other would be inexplicable. *fn3

Petitioner contends that even if Rule 29 does not permit a court to grant an untimely motion for judgment of acquittal, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 2 vests the court with supervisory power to enter judgment of acquittal. Rule 2 provides:

"These rules are intended to provide for the just determination of every criminal proceeding. They shall be construed to secure simplicity in procedure, fairness in administration and the elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay."

This Rule is of no aid to petitioner. It sets forth a principle of interpretation to be used in construing ambiguous rules, not a principle of law superseding clear rules that do not achieve the stated objectives. It does not, that is to say, provide that rules shall be construed to mean something other than what they plainly say-which is what petitioner's proposed construction of Rule 29(c) would require.

We must acknowledge that there is precedent in this Court for using Rule 2 as a basis for deviating from time limits imposed by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. In Fallen v. United States, 378 U. S. 139 (1964), we cited Rule 2 in the course of excusing the failure of an incarcerated paraplegic pro se petitioner to comply with the time limit for filing a notice of appeal under former Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 37(a). Concluding that the petitioner "had done all that could reasonably be expected" to file a timely appeal, including mailing a notice of appeal to the clerk's office two days before the notice was due, we "decline[d] to read the Rules so rigidly as to bar a determination of his appeal on the merits." 378 U. S., at 144. Fallen has been made obsolete by an amendment to Rule 37(a). *fn4 And of course Fallen was a narrow ruling when it ...


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