United States v. Armstrong
Decided on May 15, 1996; 517 US 456


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Racial discrimination, selective prosecution

B. Legal Question Presented:

Must criminal defendants who pursue selective-prosecution claims demonstrate that the government declined to prosecute similarly situated suspects of other races?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"In response to their indictment on 'crack' cocaine and other federal charges, respondents filed a motion for discovery or for dismissal, alleging that they were selected for prosecution because they are black. The District Court granted the motion over the Government's argument, among others, that there was no evidence or allegation that it had failed to prosecute nonblack defendants. When the Government indicated it would not comply with the discovery order, the court dismissed the case. The en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the proof requirements for a selective prosecution claim do not compel a defendant to demonstrate that the Government has failed to prosecute others who are similarly situated."

On appeal the US Supreme Court reversed and remanded the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Brief of amici curiae urging affirmance was filed by Steven R. Shapiro for the ACLU.

Barbara E. O'Connor argued the cause for the respondents.

Drew S. Days III, Solicitor General, argued the cause for the petitioners.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"For a defendant to be entitled to discovery on a claim that he was singled out for prosecution on the basis of his race, he must make a threshold showing that the Government declined to prosecute similarly situated suspects of other races."

"Thus, in order to establish entitlement to such discovery, a defendant must produce credible evidence that similarly situated defendants of other races could have been prosecuted, but were not. In this case, respondents have not met this required threshold."

The US Supreme Court reversed and remanded the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.

Justice Vote: 1 Pro vs. 8 Con

  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Souter, D. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged affirmance of the Ninth Circuit's judgment; the Supreme Court reversed and remanded in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.