316 U.S. 547 (1942), 974, Ward v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 974
Citation:316 U.S. 547, 62 S.Ct. 1139, 86 L.Ed. 1663
Party Name:Ward v. Texas
Case Date:June 01, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 547

316 U.S. 547 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 1139, 86 L.Ed. 1663




No. 974

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1942

Argued May 6, 1942



1. The use in a prosecution for murder of a confession obtained by officers of the law by coercing the accused is forbidden by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 555.

2. The evidence shows that law enforcement officer, acting beyond their authority and in violation of state law, arrested without a warrant an ignorant Negro, accused of murder, and took him by night and day to strange towns in several counties, incarcerated him in several jails, and by these means and by persistent questioning, coerced him to confess. The use of the confession at the trial voids the conviction. Pp. 550, 555.

158 S.W.2d 516 reversed.

Certiorari, post, p. 653, to review a judgment affirming a sentence. The conviction was of murder without malice, and the punishment assessed was confinement for three years in the state penitentiary.

BYRNES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BYRNES delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner William Ward, a negro, was indicted at the September, 1939, term of the District Court of Titus County, Texas for the murder of Levi Brown, a white man. He was placed on trial at that term, but the jury

Page 548

was unable to agree upon a verdict. At the January, 1941, term, he was again tried, and found guilty of murder without malice, the jury assessing his punishment at confinement in the State penitentiary for three years. Upon appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court. On the State's motion for rehearing, the Court reversed itself and affirmed the judgment. Petitioner's motion for rehearing was denied, one Judge dissenting. 158 S.W.2d 516. A petition for a writ of certiorari was granted in forma pauperis. 316 U.S. 653.

The evidence introduced at the trial was such that the jury could have drawn the following conclusions: the deceased, who was seventy-two years old, lived in Omaha, in Morris county. He had previously resided at Mount Pleasant, in the adjoining county of Titus. He went to Mt. Pleasant on Saturday, June 24, 1939. On Saturday evening, he was seen for the last time, talking to petitioner and a negro woman on a street corner two and a half blocks south of where his body was found. He then moved off northward along the street followed at a little distance by petitioner and the woman. A short time later, petitioner and the woman returned to the corner. They separated there, and she walked off to the south while he returned in the direction in which the deceased had gone. The body was discovered on Sunday morning lying in a field in grass about knee high. There were no signs of a struggle and no evidence of robbery. The skin on the neck was bruised and discolored, the face was swollen and the eyes distended. The front of the trousers was open and there was blood on the tail of the shirt. For some time, the deceased had been afflicted with a heart ailment, and, under advice of his physician, regularly took digitalis. He had taken a dose on Saturday before leaving his home. The examining physician, however, found that death was due to strangulation.

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The Court of Criminal Appeals, in its final opinion denying petitioner's motion for a rehearing, concluded: "It may be stated bluntly that no conviction could be sustained in the present case without the confession of appellant." The details of the confession need not be recited. It is sufficient to say that, in it, petitioner stated that, under his agreement with deceased, he was to receive one dollar; that the deceased refused to pay him, and cursed him and hit him; that he grabbed the deceased, choked him for nearly five minutes, and, not knowing whether he was dead or alive, left him on the ground.

Petitioner contends that this confession was signed by him only after he had been arrested without a warrant, taken from his home town, driven for three days from county to county, placed in a jail more than 100 miles from his home, questioned...

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