332 U.S. 596 (1948), 51, Haley v. Ohio

Docket Nº:No. 51
Citation:332 U.S. 596, 68 S.Ct. 302, 92 L.Ed. 224
Party Name:Haley v. Ohio
Case Date:January 12, 1948
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 596

332 U.S. 596 (1948)

68 S.Ct. 302, 92 L.Ed. 224




No. 51

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 12, 1948

Argued November 17, 1947



1. A 15-year-old boy was arrested about midnight on a charge of murder, and questioned by relays of police from shortly after midnight until about 5 a.m. without benefit of counsel or any friend to advise him. When confronted with alleged confessions of his alleged accomplices around 5 a.m., he signed a confession typed by the police. This confession was admitted in evidence over his protest, and he was convicted.

Held: the methods used in obtaining this confession violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the conviction cannot be sustained. Pp. 597-601.

2. The ruling of the trial court admitting the confession in evidence and the finding of the jury that the confession was voluntary did not foreclose the independent examination which it is the duty of this Court to make in such case. P. 599.

3. The fact that this 15-year-old boy was formally advised of his constitutional rights just before he signed the confession does not alter the result. Formulas of respect for constitutional safeguards may not become a cloak for inquisitorial practices and make an empty form of due process of law. P. 601.

147 Ohio St. 340, 70 N.E.2d 905, reversed.

Petitioner's conviction for murder was sustained by the Court of Appeals of Ohio. 79 Ohio App. 237, 34 O.O. 568, 72 N.E.2d 785. The Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed an appeal. 147 Ohio St. 340, 70 N.E.2d 905. The Court granted certiorari. 331 U.S. 803. Reversed, p. 601.

Page 597

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which MR. JUSTICE BLACK, MR. JUSTICE MURPHY, and MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE join.

Petitioner was convicted in an Ohio court of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Court of Appeals of Ohio sustained the judgment of conviction over the objection that the admission of petitioner's confession at the trial violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. 79 Ohio App. 237, 72 N.E.2d 785. The Ohio Supreme Court, being of the view that no debatable constitutional question was presented, dismissed the appeal. 147 Ohio St. 340, 70 N.E.2d 905. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted because we had doubts whether the ruling of the court below could be squared with Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227; Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, and like cases in this Court.

A confectionery store was robbed near midnight on October 14, 1945, and William [68 S.Ct. 303] Karam, its owner, was shot. It was the prosecutor's theory, supported by some evidence which it is unnecessary for us to relate, that petitioner, a Negro boy age 15, and two others, Willie Lowder, age 16, and Al Parks, age 17, committed the crime, petitioner acting as a lookout. Five days later -- around midnight October 19, 1945 -- petitioner was arrested at his home and taken to police headquarters.

There is some contrariety in the testimony as to what then transpired. There is evidence that he was beaten. He took the stand and so testified. His motor testified that the clothes he wore when arrested, which were exchanged two days later for clean ones she brought to the jail, were torn and blood-stained. She also testified that, when she first saw him five days after his arrest he was bruised and skinned. The police testified to the contrary on this entire line of testimony. So we put to one side the

Page 598

controverted evidence. Taking only the undisputed testimony (Malinski v. New York, supra, p. 404 and cases cited), we have the following sequence of events. Beginning shortly after midnight, this 15-year old lad was questioned by the police for about five hours. Five or six of the police questioned him in relays of one or two each. During this time, no friend or counsel of the boy was present. Around 5 a.m. -- after being shown alleged confessions of Lowder and Parks -- the boy confessed. A confession was typed in question and answer form by the police. At no time was this boy advised of his right to counsel, but the written confession started off with the following statement:

we want to inform you of your constitutional rights, the law gives you the right to make this statement or not as you see fit. It is made with the understanding that it may be used at a trial in court either for or against you or anyone else involved in this crime with you, of your own free will and accord, you are under no force or duress or compulsion and no promises are being made to you at this time whatsoever.

Do you still desire to make this statement and tell the truth after having had the above clause read to you?

A. Yes.

He was put in jail about 6 or 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, the 20th, shortly after the confession was signed. Between then and Tuesday, the 23d, he was held incommunicado. A lawyer retained by his mother tried to see him twice, but was refused admission by the police. His mother was not allowed to see him until Thursday, the 25th. But a newspaper photographer was allowed to see him and take his picture in the early morning hours of the 20th, right after he had confessed. He was not taken before a magistrate and formally charged with a crime

Page 599

until the 23d -- three days after the confession was signed.

The trial court, after a preliminary hearing on the voluntary character of the confession, allowed it to be admitted in evidence over petitioner's objection that it violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court instructed the jury to disregard the confession if it found that he did not make the confession voluntarily and of his free will.

But the ruling of the trial court and the finding of the jury on the voluntary character of the confession do not foreclose the independent examination which it is our duty to make here. Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 147-148. If the undisputed evidence suggests that force or coercion was used to exact the confession, we will not permit the judgment of conviction to stand even though, without the confession, there might have been sufficient evidence for submission to the jury. Malinski v. New York, supra, p. 404, and cases cited.

We do not think the methods used in obtaining this confession can be squared with that due process of law which the Fourteenth Amendment commands.

What transpired would make us pause for careful inquiry if a mature man were involved. And when, as here, a mere child [68 S.Ct. 304] -- an easy victim of the law -- is before us, special care in scrutinizing the record must be used. Age 15 is a tender and difficult age for a boy of any race. He cannot be judged by the more exacting standards of maturity. That which would leave a man cold and unimpressed can overawe and overwhelm a lad in his early teens. This is the period of great instability which the crisis of adolescence produces. A 15-year old lad, questioned through the dead of night by relays of police, is a ready victim of the inquisition. Mature men possibly might stand the ordeal from midnight to 5 a.m. But we cannot believe that a lad of tender years is

Page 600

a match for the police in such a contest. He needs counsel and support if he is not to become the victim first of fear, then of panic. He needs someone on whom to lean lest the overpowering presence of the law, as he knows it, may not crush him. No friend stood at the side of this 15-year old boy as the police, working in relays, questioned him hour after hour, from midnight until dawn. No lawyer stood guard to make sure that the police went so far and no farther, to see to it that they stopped short of the point where he became the victim of coercion. No counsel or friend was called during the critical hours of questioning. A photographer was admitted once this lad broke and confessed. But not even a gesture towards getting a lawyer for him was ever made.

This disregard of the standards of decency is underlined by the fact that he was kept incommunicado for over three days during which the lawyer retained to represent him twice tried to see him and twice was refused admission. A photographer was admitted at once; but his closest friend -- his mother -- was not allowed to see him for over five days after his arrest. It is said that these events are not germane to the present problem because they happened after the confession was made. But they show such a callous attitude of the police towards the safeguards which respect for ordinary standards of human relationships compels that we take with a grain of salt their present apologia that the five-hour grilling of this boy was conducted in a fair and dispassionate manner. When the police are so unmindful of these basic standards of conduct in their public dealings, their secret treatment of a 15-year old boy behind closed doors in the dead of night becomes darkly suspicious.

The age of petitioner, the hours when he was grilled, the duration of his quizzing, the fact that he had no friend or counsel to advise him, the callous attitude of

Page 601

the police towards his rights combine to convince us that this was a confession wrung from a child by means which the law should not sanction. Neither man nor child can be allowed to stand condemned by methods which flout constitutional requirements of due process of law.

But we are told that this boy was advised of his constitutional rights before he signed the confession and that, knowing them, he nevertheless confessed. That assumes, however, that a boy of fifteen, without aid of counsel, would have a full appreciation of that advice, and that, on the facts of this...

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