Wright v. West, 505 U.S. 277 (1992)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 91-542. Argued March 24, 1992—Decided June 19, 1992

A few weeks after a Virginia home was burglarized, over 15 of the missing items were recovered from respondent West's home. At his trial on grand larceny charges, he admitted to a prior felony conviction, but denied having stolen the items, explaining that he frequently bought and sold merchandise at different flea markets. He offered no explanation for how he had acquired any of the stolen items until cross-examination, when he gave vague, evasive, and even contradictory answers; could not remember how he acquired several major items, including a television set and a coffee table; and failed to produce any evidence corroborating his story. West was convicted. The State Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, both times rejecting, inter alia, West's contention that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On federal habeas, the District Court also rejected that contention. The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the standard of Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U. S. 307, 319—that evidence is sufficient to support a conviction as a matter of due process if, "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt"—had not been met.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

931 F. 2d 262, reversed and remanded.

Justice Thomas, joined by The Chief Justice and Justice Scalia, concluded that regardless of whether a federal habeas court should review state-court applications of law to fact deferentially or de novo, the trial record contains more than enough evidence to support West's conviction. Jackson repeatedly emphasizes the deference owed the trier of fact and the sharply limited nature of constitutional sufficiency review. The case against West was strong. The jury was entitled to disbelieve his uncorroborated and confused testimony, discount his credibility on account of his prior felony conviction, and take his demeanor into account. The jury was also permitted to consider what it concluded to be perjured testimony as affirmative evidence of guilt. Pp. 295-297.


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