United States v. Dunnigan, 507 U.S. 87 (1993)

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

No. 91-1300. Argued December 2, 1992—Decided February 23, 1993

At respondent's federal trial for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, the Government's case in chief consisted of five witnesses who took part in, or observed, her cocaine trafficking. As the sole witness in her own defense, respondent denied the witnesses' inculpatory statements and claimed she had never possessed or distributed cocaine. In rebuttal, the Government called an additional witness and recalled one of its earlier witnesses, both of whom testified that respondent sold crack cocaine to them. Respondent was convicted and sentenced pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Finding that she had committed perjury, the District Court enhanced her sentence, which is required under 3C1.1 of the Guidelines when a "defendant willfully impeded or obstructed, or attempted to impede or obstruct the administration of justice during the investigation or prosecution of the instant offense." In reversing the sentence, the Court of Appeals found that a 3C1.1 enhancement based on a defendant's alleged perjury would be unconstitutional. It also distinguished the precedent of United States v. Grayson, 438 U. S. 41—in which this Court upheld a sentence increase stemming from an accused's false testimony at trial—on the grounds that 3C1.1's goal is punishment for obstruction of justice rather than rehabilitation, and that, in contravention of the admonition in Grayson, 3C1.1 is applied in a wooden or reflex fashion to enhance the sentences of all defendants whose testimony is deemed false.

Held: Upon a proper determination that the accused has committed perjury at trial, a court may enhance the accused's sentence under 3C1.1. Pp. 92-98. (a) The parties agree, and the commentary to 3C1.1 is explicit, that the phrase "impede or obstruct the administration of justice" includes perjury. Perjury is committed when a witness testifying under oath or affirmation gives false testimony concerning a material matter with the willful intent to provide false testimony. Because a defendant can testify at trial and be convicted, yet not have committed perjury—for example, the accused may give inaccurate testimony as a result of confusion, mistake, or faulty memory or give truthful testimony that a jury finds insufficient to excuse criminal liability or prove lack of intent— not every testifying defendant who is convicted qualifies for a 3C1.1


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