Saldana v. United States
Decided on April 3, 1961; 365 US 646


Man convicted of five heroin related counts appeals case claiming the judge had made trial errors

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

A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (Drugs), Criminal Procedure

B. Legal Question Presented:

Should petitioner's convictions be reversed, due to alleged errors and events that occurred during his trial?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner Saldana was arrested with heroin in his hand.  During the arrest, petitioner tossed the bag of heroin to a government agent who had negotiated its purchase.  He was charged with five offenses under state and federal narcotics laws.  Since no money had changed hands, petitioner argued that there was no sale and because of this contention, he entered a plea of not guilty.  Later, appearing before a  trial judge in the District Court for the Southern District of California, petitioner reversed his plea to guilty on two of the five counts. Another trial judge, sua sponte, ordered petitioner's guilty pleas to be withdrawn, and directed the entry of a not guilty plea on all five counts.  The first judge was no longer presiding, because under local rules, each judge presided over the criminal calendar for three months before rotating. 

Petitioner proceeded to trial and was convicted of counts two to five, and acquitted on count one.  Petitioner appealed, arguing that the second trial judge was not authorized to withdraw his guilty plea, and that proceeding to trial had constituted double jeopardy in violation of the Fifth Amendment.  The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed his conviction, holding that the trial court was justified in withdrawing the guilty pleas on the first two counts sua sponte, and that there was no double jeopardy.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals.  Petitioner argued that there were a number of trial errors, and that he was deprived of his constitutionally guaranteed rights.  
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Stephen R. Reinhardt, acting under appointment by the Court, and Herbert A. Bernhard, by special leave of Court, pro hac vice [for this event], argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner.
Solicitor General Cox argued the cause for the United States.  With him on the brief were Acting Assistant Attorney General Foley, Beatrice Rosenberg and Theodore George Gilinsky.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable  
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
John T. McTernan, A. L. Wirin, and Fred Okrand 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:

"In the light of the Solicitor General's suggestion, and upon an independent examination of the record, we have concluded that a due regard for the fair administration of justice requires that the convictions under counts 3, 4, and 5 of the indictment be set aside. The conviction under count 2, to which the petitioner originally pleaded guilty, is affirmed.

Because of this disposition of the case, we do not reach for consideration the alleged trial errors with respect to limitation of cross-examination, sufficiency of the evidence of a 'sale' under count 5, and instructions to the jury as to entrapment."

Held: The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part.
Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con
Per Curiam (no individual authorship of the court's opinion)

  • Warren, E. Pro 
  • Black, H. Pro 
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro
  • Douglas. W. Pro 
  • Clark, T. Pro 
  • Harlan, J. Pro 
  • Brennan, W. Pro 
  • Whittaker, C. Pro 
  • Stewart, P. Pro 
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus curiae urging reversal of the Court of Appeal's affirmation that the trial judge was justified in withdrawing petitioner's plea; the US Supreme Court reversed that decision and affirmed in part the lower court's ruling in a per curiam 9-0 decision, giving the ACLU an apparent win.