SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
OCTOBER TERM, 1992
on petition for writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
No. 92-609. Decided February 22, 1993
Respondent was charged with operating a motor vehicle in a national park while under the influence of alcohol (DUI), a federal misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. As an alternative to imprisonment, a court may impose a probation term not to exceed five years. Relying on this Court's decision in Blanton v. North Las Vegas, 489 U. S. 538, a Magistrate Judge denied respondent's motion for a jury trial, concluding that DUI's maximum imprisonment term made it presumptively a "petty" offense which is not embraced by the Sixth Amendment's jury trial guarantee, and that the additional penalties did not transform it into a "serious" offense for Sixth Amendment purposes. Respondent was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a fine and one year's probation. The District Court reversed, holding that respondent was entitled to a jury trial under relevant Ninth Circuit precedent. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Blanton was inapposite to respondent's case.
Held: The Court of Appeals erred in refusing to recognize that this case was controlled by the opinion in Blanton rather than its own precedent. Applying the Blanton rule, DUI, with its 6-month maximum prison term established by Congress, is presumptively a petty offense. The additional penalties imposed are not sufficiently severe to overcome this presumption, for neither a fine nor a parole alternative can approximate in severity the loss of liberty that a prison term entails. Certiorari granted; 953 F. 2d 1389, reversed.
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