Crosby v. United States
Decided on Jan. 13, 1993; 506 US 255


A man appeals his conviction after skipping his own trial

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

A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (procedure), 5th and 6th Amendments

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43 permit the trial in absentia of a defendant who is not present at the beginning of trial?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner, Michael Crosby, was indicted on multiple counts of mail fraud. After entering a not guilty plea, Crosby was released on $100,000 bond. Petitioner was aware of the date his trial was scheduled to begin but he failed to appear. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43 requires a defendant to be present at each state of a trial except when permission is otherwise provided. The Rule includes a waiver provision when a defendant who initially is present "is voluntarily absent after the trial has commenced.”

After several days of searching for Crosby, the District Court of Minnesota granted the Government’s formal request to commence the trial. The District Court concluded that petitioner’s absence was "knowing and deliberate" and that he had voluntarily waived his constitutional right to be present at his trial.

The trial began with petitioner’s counsel present and ended with the jury returning guilty verdicts against Crosby. Petitioner was arrested in Florida six months later and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He appealed his convictions, arguing that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43 forbids the trial in absentia of a defendant who is not present at the beginning of the trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision, noting that other Courts of Appeals had found trial in absentia permissible. Crosby sought review by the United States Supreme Court and the high court granted certiorari to review the case.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Mark D. Nyvold, by appointment of the court, argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner.
Richard H. Seamon argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Mueller, and Deputy Solicitor General Bryson.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Steven R. Shapiro and John A. Powell filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curiae urging reversal. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Respondent.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Rule 43 provides in relevant part:

(a) Presence Required. The defendant shall be present at the arraignment, at the time of the plea, at every stage of the trial including the impaneling of the jury and the return of the verdict, and at the imposition of sentence, except as otherwise provided by this rule.

(b) Continued Presence Not Required. The further progress of the trial to and including the return of the verdict shall not be prevented and the defendant shall be considered to have waived the right to be present whenever a defendant, initially present, '(1) is voluntarily absent after the trial has commenced...'

The Government concedes that the Rule does not specifically authorize the trial in absentia of a defendant who was not present at the beginning of his trial. The Government argues, nonetheless, that 'Rule 43 does not purport to contain a comprehensive listing of the circumstances under which the right to be present may be waived.'

The language, history, and logic of Rule 43 support a straightforward interpretation that prohibits the trial in absentia of a defendant who is not present at the beginning of trial... This case requires us to decide whether Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43 permits the trial in absentia of a defendant who absconds prior to trial and is absent at its beginning. We hold that it does not.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O’Connor, S.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed a brief as amicus curiae urging reversal; the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the lower court in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.