342 U.S. 55 (1951), 94, Gallegos v. Nebraska

Docket Nº:No. 94
Citation:342 U.S. 55, 72 S.Ct. 141, 96 L.Ed. 86
Party Name:Gallegos v. Nebraska
Case Date:November 26, 1951
Court:United States Supreme Court

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342 U.S. 55 (1951)

72 S.Ct. 141, 96 L.Ed. 86




No. 94

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 26, 1951

Argued October 8, 1951



Petitioner, a 38-year-old Mexican farm hand who can neither speak nor write English, was arrested, jailed, and questioned in Texas, and, after four days, during which he claims he was mistreated, he confessed to a homicide in Nebraska. Thereafter, he was taken to Nebraska, where he again confessed, although he makes no claim of mistreatment by the Nebraska authorities. Twenty-five days after his arrest and fourteen days after his arrival in Nebraska, he was brought before a magistrate for the first time, and he pleaded guilty. Two days later, before trial, counsel was appointed to defend him. At his trial in a state court, the two confessions and the plea were admitted in evidence over his objection, and he was convicted of manslaughter. The State Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: upon the record in this case, it cannot be said that the admission in evidence of the confessions and plea violated petitioner's rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 56-68; 68-73.

(a) The rule of McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, is not a limitation imposed by the Constitution, and is not applicable to trials of criminal cases in state courts. Pp. 63-65; 71-72.

(b) On the record in this case, it cannot be said that Nebraska violated the requirements of due process in this conviction. Pp. 60-63, 65-68; 68-73.

152 Neb. 831, 43 N.W.2d 1, affirmed.

Petitioner's conviction in a state court of Nebraska for manslaughter, claimed to have been in violation of rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, was affirmed by the State Supreme Court. 152 Neb. 831, 43 N.W.2d 1. This Court granted certiorari. 341 U.S. 947. Affirmed, p. 68.

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REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BURTON and MR. JUSTICE CLARK join.

Petitioner, Agapita Gallegos, was convicted in a District Court of Nebraska of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, the maximum penalty. The charge was the slaying of his paramour without deliberation or premeditation. This judgment of conviction was sustained by the Supreme Court of Nebraska over the objection that introduction at the trial of petitioner's prior statements admitting the homicide violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. 152 Neb. 831, 43 N.W.2d 1. In view of certain undenied incidents giving color to petitioner's allegation of unfairness in the prosecution, certiorari was granted to determine whether the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment were violated by the admission of the statements. 341 U.S. 947.

On September 19, 1949, at the request of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, petitioner, a thirty-eight-year-old Mexican farm hand who can neither speak nor write English, was arrested, together with his brother, by police officers of El Paso County at the southwest corner of Texas, and there booked on a charge of vagrancy. Gallegos had been an itinerant farm worker in this country before his arrest, and had recently returned here for such work.

We gather from the abbreviated record that information was sought by the Texas authorities as to petitioner's acts in Nebraska, where he had worked the preceding year. After arrest, petitioner was questioned regarding his identity. He at once gave a false name. Thereafter,

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he was jailed in a small room for the next twenty-one hours. Further questioning to establish identity was had on September 20, 1949, without result. Following his second interrogation, petitioner was left alone for forty-eight hours. On September 22, 1949, petitioner was removed from his cell and interrogated. After he gave his name and an admission that he had been in Nebraska, he was reconfined; this time confinement ran for a period of twenty-four hours.

On September 23, 1949, petitioner disclosed details of this Nebraska crime. A statement in respect of the crime was immediately prepared in English. This was read to the petitioner in Spanish, and he thereafter signed it. His Texas detention continued until September 27, 1949. During the entire time, no charge was filed against him in any state or federal court, nor was he brought before a magistrate.

We have Gallegos' evidence as to his Texas confinement, the rooms he was placed in, their condition as to furnishings, and the food provided. His testimony on these points is met only in part by the testimony of the Chief Deputy Sheriff of El Paso, his interrogator. There were times when Gallegos was not under his direct observation. Nebraska had no other witness for the trial familiar with conditions of the Texas restraint. Gallegos' testimony through the interpreter concerning these matters is vague. From it, one gathers that Gallegos sought to convey the impression that the rooms were cells, that the one he occupied for twenty-one hours was without a bed, that one he occupied was without light or poorly lighted, and that the food was sparse, perhaps not more than a meal a day.

During the questioning in the four-day period from September 19th through the 23d, the state says petitioner was not treated or threatened with violence. His questioning did not last longer than an hour [72 S.Ct. 144] or two on any

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day, and, according to the record, was conducted almost entirely by the state's witness, the Chief Deputy Sheriff. However, Gallegos testifies that he was told that he might be turned over to the Mexican authorities for more severe questioning, and that a lie detector might be used upon him. The record shows no flat denial of Gallegos' assertions contained in the last sentence, but it does show, by testimony of the Deputy Sheriff, that no threats or promises were made, and that reference to the Mexican authorities, if made, was that Gallegos would be turned over to the United States Immigration Service, who, in turn, would deliver him to the Mexican Immigration Service. Gallegos also spoke of threatened violence.1

On September 27, 1949, a Nebraska sheriff reached Texas and took petitioner to the Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, jail, arriving Thursday, September 29 at 1 a.m. Gallegos was questioned on Saturday, October 1, at which time he was interviewed through an interpreter by three county police officers. He described the crime

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for which he was convicted. A transcript in English of the interpreter's translations of the interview was made and some days later read back to petitioner in a Spanish retranslation. The evidence is that Gallegos confirmed this record. The record shows no claim of mistreatment by Nebraska authorities.

By § 29-406, Neb.Rev.Stat., 1943, a police officer is commanded to take an accused before a magistrate. This was not done until October 13, 1949, when petitioner was brought before the county judge of Scotts Bluff County for a preliminary hearing on a complaint charging murder in the second degree. This was the first time petitioner was brought before any magistrate or court. As an incident to the hearing, petitioner was asked to plead. He pleaded guilty. These two confessions and the plea were introduced at petitioner's trial by the state. On October 15, 1949, before trial, the District Court of Scotts Bluff County found petitioner to be entitled to

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counsel appointed by the court, and counsel was then for the first time appointed.

Petitioner presents in his brief only the following question:

Are confessions and a plea obtained from a prisoner during a period of twenty-five days illegal detention by federal and state officers before being brought before a magistrate and before counsel is appointed to assist the prisoner admissible in evidence?

An answer requires an examination into the circumstances of record surrounding the statements.

[72 S.Ct. 145] Before the Supreme Court of Nebraska, on the basis of facts in the record of the trial, it was urged that the confessions and plea were inadmissible because they were the result of "physical torture and threats of torture, mental duress, illegal transportation, and illegal detention," in violation of the federal and state constitutions. As conviction without acceptance of the voluntary character of the confessions would logically have been impossible, we assume that the jury, under applicable instructions, found the statements voluntary. 152 Neb. 831, 837-840, 43 N.W.2d 1, 4-6. Evidently, neither judge nor jury accepted the testimony of Gallegos on disputed facts as to coercion. Where direct contradiction of petitioner's assertions as to conditions of his detention in Texas was unavailable or unobtainable, the jury disregarded or minimized or disbelieved Gallegos to such an extent that his confessions were accepted as voluntary. The Deputy Sheriff, the prosecution witness in the best position to know, denied any coercion by promise, threat or violence. A criminal prosecution approved by the state should not be set aside as violative of due process without clear proof that such drastic action is required to protect federal constitutional rights. While our conclusion on due process

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does not necessarily follow the ultimate determinations of judges or juries as to the voluntary character of a defendant's statements prior to trial, the better opportunity afforded those state agencies to appraise the weight of the evidence, because the witnesses gave it personally before them, leads us to accept their judgment insofar as facts upon which conclusions must be reached are in dispute. The state's ultimate conclusion on guilt is examined from...

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