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United States v. Goodwin

Case Name
United States v. Goodwin
457 U.S. 368
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
John Paul Stevens
Judge(s) - Majority
Warren Burger, Byron White, Lewis Powell, William Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor
Judge(s) - Concur
Harry Blackmun
Judge(s) - Dissent
William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
4th Circuit
Decision Year


Defendant charged with several misdemeanors refused a plea during negotiations with the prosecutor and requested jury trial in federal court. The Assistant United States Attorney to whom the case was transferred charged defendant with a felony and misdemeanor for which the jury convicted him. Defendant moved to set aside the verdict on grounds of prosecutorial vindictiveness for his exercising his right to jury trial. The Court upheld the conviction. Though it recognized that due process requires a defendant to be free from fear of actual or potential prosecutorial retaliation, the Court has only found it necessary to presume improper vindictive motive in cases where a reasonable likelihood thereof exists. Usually, this presumption arises upon retrial of an overturned conviction, which the prosecutor can rebut only with objective information from the record justifying harsher sentences. The presumption does not apply to pretrial negotiations during which a prosecutor threatens new charges for defendants that refuse to plea guilty to the original ones. The prosecutor has especially broad discretion before trial when he is assembling information to aid his case. The distinction between jury and bench trials does not increase the likelihood of vindictiveness.

Key Quote

“At this [pre-trial] stage of the proceedings, the prosecutor’s assessment of the proper extent of prosecution may not have crystallized. In contrast, once a trial begins . . . it is much more likely that the State has discovered and assessed all of the information against the accused[.] . . . Thus, a change in the charging decision made after an initial trial is completed is much more likely to be improperly motivated than is a pretrial decision.” p.381