Bozza v. United States – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Bozza v. United States, 330 U.S. 160 (1947), the defendant was sentenced in accordance with a statute that provided for a mandatory minimum sentence of a fine of one hundred dollars and imprisonment. When initially sentenced, however, the court imposed only a term of imprisonment. Several hours later, the court recalled the defendant and imposed the mandatory minimum fine as was required by the statute.

In upholding the court's increased sentence to comply with the terms of the statute, the Supreme Court held: "If this inadvertent error cannot be corrected in the manner used here by the trial court, no valid and enforceable sentence can be imposed at all. . . . This Court has rejected the doctrine that a prisoner, whose guilt is established, by a regular verdict, is to escape punishment altogether, because the court committed an error in passing the sentence. . . . The Constitution does not require that sentencing should be a game in which a wrong move by the judge means immunity for the prisoner. . . . In this case the court only set aside what it had no authority to do and substituted directions required by the law to be done upon the conviction of the offender. . . . The sentence, as corrected, imposes a valid punishment for an offense instead of an invalid punishment for that offense." Id., at 166-67.

The main issue was the legality of modifying a sentence.

The defendant had originally been sentenced to imprisonment and the trial court later imposed fines in addition to the term of imprisonment.

The Court held that the addition of the fines to the defendant's sentence did not constitute double jeopardy. 330 U.S. at 166.

The Court's analysis supports the idea that a sentence should be analyzed separately from the verdict, but the analysis does not support the conclusion that certain sentencing errors should be termed "structural errors" which mandate resentencing.

In Bozza v. United States, the issue before the Court was whether the "fact that the petitioner has been twice before the judge for sentencing and in a federal place of detention during the five-hour interim" constituted double jeopardy. Id. at 166.

Holding that it did not, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its rejection of the "'doctrine that a prisoner, whose guilt is established, by a regular verdict, is to escape punishment altogether, because the court committed an error in passing sentence.'" Id. at 166.