Alabama v. Smith – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Alabama v. Smith, 490 U.S. 794, (1989), the defendant received a higher sentence after trial than he received following a guilty plea which was subsequently vacated.

The court noted that, following trial, the judge had more sentencing information available than following the guilty plea.

The judge was also able to observe the defendant's demeanor during trial.

The Smith court then determined that there was no presumption of vindictiveness and that because the defendant had failed to demonstrate actual vindictiveness, the sentence was proper. Id. at 799-800.

The Court determined that the presumption of vindictiveness was absent when a trial court imposes a greater penalty after trial than it would have after a guilty plea.

"In the course of the proof at trial the judge may gather a fuller appreciation of the nature and extent of the crimes charged.

The defendant's conduct during trial may give the judge insights into his moral character and suitability for rehabilitation." Id. at 801.

Further, a guilty plea may justify leniency, a justification absent if the case proceeds to trial. Id. at 802.

The Court emphasized that the Pearce "presumption of vindictiveness" does not apply in every case where a defendant receives a higher sentence following a retrial. Id. at 799.

The Court reasoned that the presumption should not apply because a judge who presides at trial likely will gain additional information about the nature of the crime and the defendant's character and other factors relevant to sentencing that were not known when the judge imposed sentence following a guilty plea. Id. at 801-03.