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Alabama v. Smith

Case Name
Alabama v. Smith
490 U.S. 794
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
William Rehnquist
Judge(s) - Majority
William Rehnquist, William Brennan, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy
Judge(s) - Dissent
Thurgood Marshall
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
Supreme Court of Alabama
Decision Year
Sentencing Differential (Maximum Exposure)
150 years
Sentencing Differential (Minimum Offered or Received)
30 years
Sentencing Differential Size
120 years


Defendant was charged with burglary, rape, and sodomy. In exchange for pleading guilty to the charges of burglary and rape, the state dismissed the sodomy charge. The court sentenced defendant to thirty years. Defendant subsequently attacked his plea and was granted a new trial by jury on all three counts before the same judge. After being found guilty on all three charges, defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed his sentence, finding a presumption of vindictiveness because his sentence on remand was harsher than a previous sentence on the same charges. The United States Supreme Court reversed, finding that there is no presumption of vindictiveness when the previous sentence is based on a plea bargain and the subsequent sentence is based on a trial. During a trial, the judge and prosecutor develop a better understanding of the defendant’s moral character and the nature and extent of crimes charged. Factors that indicated leniency as consideration for the guilty plea may no longer be present. Such details inform the new sentence and dispel the presumption of vindictiveness.

Key Quote

“[W]hen a greater penalty is imposed after trial than was imposed after a prior guilty plea, the increase in sentence is not more likely than not attributable to the vindictiveness on the part of the sentencing judge.” p.801