The motion of petitioner for leave to proceed informa pauperis and the petition for a writ of certiorari are granted.
In state criminal trials, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged." In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970); see also Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 315-316 (1979). This reasonable-doubt standard "plays a vital role in the American
Petitioner was convicted in a Louisiana trial court of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. He appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, arguing, inter alia, that the reasonable-doubt instruction used in the guilt phase of his trial was constitutionally defective. The instruction provided in relevant part:
The Supreme Court of Louisiana rejected petitioner's argument. The court first observed that the use of the phrases "grave uncertainty" and "moral certainty" in the instruction, "if taken out of context, might overstate the requisite degree of uncertainty and confuse the jury." Ibid. But "taking the charge as a whole," the court concluded that "reasonable persons of ordinary intelligence would understand
In construing the instruction, we consider how reasonable jurors could have understood the charge as a whole. Francis v. Franklin, 471 U.S. 307, 316 (1985). The charge did at one point instruct that to convict, guilt must be found beyond a reasonable doubt; but it then equated a reasonable doubt with a "grave uncertainty" and an "actual substantial doubt," and stated that what was required was a "moral certainty" that the defendant was guilty. It is plain to us that the words "substantial" and "grave," as they are commonly understood, suggest a higher degree of doubt than is required for acquittal under the reasonable-doubt standard. When those statements are then considered with the reference to "moral certainty," rather than evidentiary certainty, it becomes clear that a reasonable juror could have interpreted the instruction to allow a finding of guilt based on a degree of proof below that required by the Due Process Clause.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.