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Ricketts v. Adamson

Case Name
Ricketts v. Adamson
483 U.S. 1
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Byron White
Judge(s) - Majority
William Rehnquist, Byron White, Lewis Powell, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia
Judge(s) - Dissent
William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens, Harry Blackmun
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
9th Circuit
Decision Year
Sentencing Differential (Maximum Exposure)
Sentencing Differential (Minimum Offered or Received)
48-49 years with total incarceration of 20 years and 2 months
Sentencing Differential Size


State prosecutor and a defendant charged with first-degree murder reached a plea agreement where defendant would plead guilty to second-degree murder and testify against two other individuals allegedly involved in the same crime. The agreement expressly stated that it would be null and void and thus reinstate the original first-degree murder charge if defendant refused to testify or testified untruthfully. Believing his obligation under the agreement terminated when he was sentenced, defendant did not testify at the individuals’ retrial. The prosecutor subsequently convicted defendant and sentenced him to death. Defendant sought habeas corpus review, claiming that the Double Jeopardy Clause barred his prosecution after being sentenced for a lesser-included offense. The Court upheld the conviction, agreeing with the State that defendant’s breach of the plea arrangement removed the double jeopardy bar. Paragraphs five and fifteen of the agreement explicitly waived the defense. Defendant clearly appreciated and fully understood the consequences of the breach and, despite the fatal penalty, still made a conscious decision to do so.

Key Quote

“[The defendant] could submit to the State’s request . . . or he could stand on his interpretation of the agreement, knowing that if he were wrong, his breach of the agreement would restore the parties to their original positions and he could be prosecuted for first-degree murder. [Defendant] chose the latter course, and the Double Jeopardy Clause does not relieve him from the consequences of that choice.” p.11