343 U.S. 181 (1952), 373, Stroble v. California

Docket Nº:No. 373
Citation:343 U.S. 181, 72 S.Ct. 599, 96 L.Ed. 872
Party Name:Stroble v. California
Case Date:April 07, 1952
Court:United States Supreme Court

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343 U.S. 181 (1952)

72 S.Ct. 599, 96 L.Ed. 872




No. 373

United States Supreme Court

April 7, 1952

Argued March 6, 1952



Petitioner's conviction of first degree murder was affirmed by the Supreme Court of California. Petitioner here challenged the validity of his conviction under the Fourteenth Amendment, on the grounds (1) that it was based in part on a coerced confession; (2) that a fair trial was impossible because of inflammatory newspaper reports inspired by the District Attorney, and (3) that he was, in effect, deprived of counsel in the course of his sanity hearing. He urged that each of these grounds independently was a denial of due process, and that the combination of them with other circumstances denied due process.

Held: the judgment of conviction is affirmed. Pp. 183-198.

1. If the confession which petitioner made in the District Attorney's office shortly after his arrest was in fact involuntary, the conviction cannot stand, even though the evidence apart from that confession might hare been sufficient to sustain the jury's verdict. P. 190.

2. When the question on review of a state court conviction is whether there has been a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the introduction of an involuntary confession, this Court must make an independent determination on the undisputed facts. P. 190.

3. In the light of all the circumstances of this case, this Court cannot say that petitioner's confession in the District Attorney's office was the result of coercion, either physical or psychological. Pp. 184-189, 190-191.

4. Petitioner's contention that the newspaper accounts of his "arrest and confession were so inflammatory as to make a fair trial in the Los Angeles area impossible -- even though a period of six weeks intervened between the day of his arrest and confession and the beginning of his trial -- is not sustained by the record in this case. Pp. 191-195.

5. Petitioner's contention that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel when he waived trial by jury on the issue

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of insanity is not substantiated, since it appears that he had the full assistance of competent counsel on that question. Pp. 195-196.

6. The combination of the above ground with the alleged unwarranted delay in arraignment and the refusal to permit counsel to consult petitioner during the making of the confession, do not amount to such unfairness as to deny due process. Pp. 196-198.

7. Upon review by this Court of a state court conviction challenged as wanting in due process, illegal acts of state officials prior to trial are relevant only as they bear upon the defendant's contention that he was deprived of a fair trial, either through the use of a coerced confession or otherwise. P. 197.

8. Upon the facts of this case, this Court cannot hold that the illegal conduct of the law enforcement officers in not taking petitioner promptly before a committing magistrate coerced the confession which he made in the District Attorney's office or in any other way deprived him of a fair and impartial trial. P. 197.

9. Upon the record in this case, there is no showing of prejudice resulting from the refusal of the prosecutors to admit counsel during their interrogation of petitioner. Pp. 197-198.

10. The burden of showing essential unfairness in a state court trial is upon him who claims such injustice and seeks to have the result set aside, and must be sustained not as a matter of speculation, but as a demonstrable reality. P. 198.

36 Cal.2d 615, 226 P.2d 330, affirmed.

Petitioner's conviction of first degree murder, challenged as violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, was affirmed by the Supreme Court of California. 36 Cal.2d 615, 226 P.2d 330. This Court granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 811. Affirmed, p. 198.

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CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner has been convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. He asks this Court to reverse his conviction as wanting in that due process of law guaranteed against state encroachment by the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioner claims (1) that his conviction was based in part on a coerced confession; (2) that a fair trial was impossible because of inflammatory newspaper reports inspired by the District Attorney; (3) that he was, in effect, deprived of counsel in the course of his sanity hearing; (4) that there was an unwarranted delay in his arraignment, and (5) that the prosecuting officers unjustifiably refused to permit an attorney to consult petitioner shortly after petitioner's arrest. Petitioner urges that each of the first three circumstances is independently a deprivation of due process and that, in any event, the combination of all five circumstances operated to deprive him of a fair trial.

The murder of which petitioner has been convicted occurred on Monday, November 14, 1949; the victim was a girl, aged 6. Petitioner was arrested around noon on Thursday, November 17, 1949. He was arraigned in the Los Angeles Municipal Court at 10 o'clock the following morning, and the City Public Defender was appointed to represent him. A preliminary hearing was held on Monday, November 21, and petitioner was bound over for trial in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. On November 25, petitioner was arraigned in the Superior Court and the County Public Defender was appointed as his counsel. From that point until the conclusion of his trial, petitioner was vigorously defended by two deputies of the County Public Defender's office. On December 2, 1949, petitioner pleaded both "not guilty" and "not guilty by reason of insanity." The case came on for trial on January 3, 1950. The issue of guilt was tried to a

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jury, which, on January 19, returned a verdict of guilty of first degree murder, without recommendation; under California law, this automatically fixed the penalty at death. On January 20, 1950, petitioner waived jury trial on he issue of insanity, and the court found that petitioner was sane at the time of committing the offense. On January 27, 1950, on petitioner's motion, a private attorney was substituted as petitioner's counsel. On February 6, 1950, the trial court, after a hearing, denied petitioner's motion for a new trial, motion in arrest of judgment, and motion to set aside the waiver of jury trial on the issue of insanity.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of California unanimously affirmed the conviction. People v. Stroble, 36 Cal.2d 615, 226 P.2d 330. We granted certiorari because of the seriousness of petitioner's allegations under the Due Process Clause. 342 U.S. 811.

The facts leading to petitioner's arrest may be summarized as follows:

[72 S.Ct. 601] In the early morning of November 15, 1949, the victim's body was found behind the incinerator in the back yard of the home of petitioner's daughter and son-n-aw. It was wrapped in a blanket and covered with boxes. A necktie was wound twice around the child's neck. An axe, knife, and hammer were found in the vicinity of the body. An autopsy revealed that the immediate cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation. It also revealed numerous lacerations on the top and sides of the head, six skull fractures, a deep laceration in the back of the neck, abrasions and discolorations on the child's back, irritation of the external genitalia, and three puncture wounds in the chest.

Suspicion immediately focused on petitioner, who had been visiting his daughter and son-n-aw until the day before, when he had disappeared. Some six months before, petitioner had jumped bail on a charge of molesting a

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small girl, and had never since been apprehended. At approximately 11:50 a.m. on November 17, as petitioner entered the bar of a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, a civilian recognized him as the man whom the police were seeking in connection with the murder. The civilian summoned a police officer, Carlson, who thereupon arrested petitioner.

From this point on, there are some conflicts in the testimony, as noted below. Carlson, accompanied by the civilian, took petitioner to the park foreman's office in nearby Pershing Square, where Carlson called headquarters to report his arrest of petitioner and to request that a police car be sent. Then Carlson, in the presence of the civilian and the park foreman, proceeded to search petitioner. Carlson had petitioner stand facing the wall with his hands raised against it and his feet away from it. While being searched in this position, petitioner pulled his feet closer to the wall, and then Carlson, with the side of his shoe, kicked petitioner's shoes at the toes in order to push petitioner's feet back into position. The civilian testified that "possibly" Carlson's foot slipped and hit petitioner's shin "once or twice." Carlson testified that at no time did he "strike" petitioner or "inflict any kind of physical injury on him."1 No marks were found on petitioner when he was examined by a physician a few hours later. It also appears that, after searching petitioner, Carlson took out his blackjack, held it under petitioner's nose, and said either, Do you know what this is for?" or "Have you seen this?" Petitioner makes no claim that Carlson used the blackjack on him. While waiting for the police car to arrive, the civilian asked petitioner whether he was guilty of the murder, and petitioner "mumbled something under his breath that sounded like "I guess I am." Thereupon, according to the civilian,

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the park foreman slapped petitioner with his open hand and knocked off petitioner's glasses.

Without undue delay, the...

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