Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Jackson v. Virginia

Supreme Court of the United States

March 21, 1979, Argued ; June 28, 1979, Decided

No. 78-5283


 [*309]  [***567]  [**2783]    MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

 ] The Constitution prohibits the criminal conviction of any person except upon proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358. The question in this case is what standard is to be applied in a federal habeas corpus proceeding when the claim is made that a person has been convicted in a state court upon insufficient evidence.

 The petitioner was convicted after a bench trial in the Circuit Court of Chesterfield  [**2784]  County, Va., of the first-degree murder of a woman named Mary Houston Cole. 2] Under Virginia law, murder is defined as "the unlawful killing of another with malice aforethought." Stapleton v. Commonwealth, 123 Va. 825, 96 S. E. 801. Premeditation, or specific intent to kill, distinguishes murder [****5]  in the first from murder in the second degree; proof of this element is essential to conviction of the former offense, and the burden of proving it clearly rests with the prosecution. Shiflett v. Commonwealth, 143 Va. 609, 130 S. E. 777;Jefferson v. Commonwealth, 214 Va. 432, 201 S. E. 2d 749.

 [****6]  That the petitioner had shot and killed Mrs. Cole was not in dispute at the trial. The State's evidence established that  [*310]  she had been a member of the staff at the local county jail, that she had befriended him while he was imprisoned there on a disorderly conduct charge, and that when he was released she had arranged for him to live in the home of her son and daughter-in-law. Testimony by her relatives indicated that on the day of the killing the petitioner had been drinking and had spent a great deal of time shooting at targets with his revolver. Late in the afternoon, according to their testimony, he had unsuccessfully attempted to talk the victim into driving him to North Carolina. She did drive the petitioner to a local diner. There the two were observed by several police officers, who testified that both the petitioner and the victim had been drinking. The two were observed by a deputy sheriff as they were preparing to leave the diner in her car. The petitioner was then in possession of his revolver, and the sheriff also observed a kitchen knife in the automobile. The sheriff testified that he had offered to keep the revolver until the petitioner sobered  [***568]   [****7]  up, but that the latter had indicated that this would be unnecessary since he and the victim were about to engage in sexual activity.

Her body was found in a secluded church parking lot a day and a half later, naked from the waist down, her slacks beneath her body. Uncontradicted medical and expert evidence established that she had been shot twice at close range with the petitioner's gun. She appeared not to have been sexually molested. Six cartridge cases identified as having been fired from the petitioner's gun were found near the body.

Read The Full CaseNot a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.

443 U.S. 307 *; 99 S. Ct. 2781 **; 61 L. Ed. 2d 560 ***; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 10 ****


Subsequent History:  [****1]  Petition for Rehearing Denied October 1, 1979.


Disposition:  580 F.2d 1048, affirmed.


beyond a reasonable doubt, factfinder, murder, guilt, convictions, reasonable doubt, federal habeas corpus, killing, reasonable-doubt, convinced, cases, criminal conviction, federal court, sufficiency of evidence, court of appeals, proceedings, guilt beyond, premeditation, shot, rational trier of fact, district court, trier of fact, no evidence, state court, trial judge, overturned, criterion, due process, criminal trial, federal judge

Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Burdens of Proof, Prosecution, Murder, Second-Degree Murder, Elements, Homicide, Manslaughter & Murder, General Overview, Definitions, Malice, First-Degree Murder, Penalties, Sentencing, Capital Punishment, Ranges, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Defendant's Rights, Right to Due Process, Appeals, Reversible Error, Jury Instructions, Evidence, Weight & Sufficiency, Standards of Review, Habeas Corpus, Review, Independent & Adequate State Grounds, Adequate & Independent Principle, Jurisdiction, Cognizable Issues, Custody Requirement, Custody Determinations, Satisfaction of Custody, In Custody Requirement, Deliberation & Premeditation, Acts & Mental States, Mens Rea, Specific Intent