352 U.S. 191 (1957), 53, Fikes v. Alabama

Docket Nº:No. 53
Citation:352 U.S. 191, 77 S.Ct. 281, 1 L.Ed.2d 246
Party Name:Fikes v. Alabama
Case Date:January 14, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 191

352 U.S. 191 (1957)

77 S.Ct. 281, 1 L.Ed.2d 246




No. 53

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 14, 1957

Argued December 6, 1956



In an Alabama state court, petitioner, an uneducated Negro of low mentality or mentally ill, was convicted of burglary with intent to commit rape and was sentenced to death. Two confessions admitted in evidence at his trial were obtained while he was held in a state prison far from his home, without the preliminary hearing required by Alabama law and without advice of counsel, friends or family. The first confession was obtained after five days of intermittent questioning by police officers for several hours at a time and the second five days later after more such questioning.

Held: the circumstances of pressure applied against the power of resistance of this petitioner, who was weak of will or mind, deprived him of due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 191-198.

263 Ala. 89, 81 So.2d 303, reversed and remanded.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner is under sentence of death for the crime of burglary with intent to commit rape. He seeks reversal of the judgment through a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alabama, which sustained the conviction. 263 Ala. 89, 81 So.2d 303. Petitioner raised three issues in support of his position that he had been denied due process of law. He alleged:

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1. Admission into evidence of two confessions extracted from him under [77 S.Ct. 282] circumstances demonstrating that the statements were coerced or involuntary.

2. Denial by the trial judge of petitioner's request to testify about the manner in which the confessions were obtained without subjecting himself to unlimited cross-examination as to the facts of the crime charged.

3. Selection of the grand jury which indicted him by a method that systematically discriminated against members of his race.

We granted certiorari to determine whether the requirements of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment had been satisfied in these aspects of petitioner's conviction. 350 U.S. 993. The judgment must be reversed because of the admission of the confessions. Therefore, it is unnecessary at this time to decide or discuss the other two issues raised by petitioner.

The facts essential to the present decision are as follows:

During the early months of 1953, a number of housebreakings, some involving rape or attempted rape, were committed in the City of Selma, Alabama. The present trial concerned one of these crimes.1 On the night of April 24, 1953, an intruder broke into the apartment of the daughter of the city's mayor. She awoke to find a Negro man sitting on her with a knife at her throat. A struggle ensued which carried the woman and her assailant through the bedroom, hall, and living room, where she finally was able to seize the knife, at which point he fled. These rooms were all lighted. The victim testified

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that the attacker "had a towel draped over his head" throughout the incident; she did not identify petitioner as the attacker in her testimony at the trial. However, two other women testified to similar housebreakings (one of which resulted in rape), and they each identified petitioner as the burglar. This testimony was admitted at the present trial "solely on the question of intent and identity of defendant and his motive on the occasion then on trial." 263 Ala. at 99, 81 So.2d at 313. This, with the challenged confessions, was substantially all the evidence concerning the crime at the trial.

About midnight on May 16, 1953, petitioner was apprehended in an alley in a white neighborhood in Selma by private persons, who called the police. The officers jailed him "on an open charge of investigation." The next day, a Sunday, the questioning that led to the challenged confessions began. It is, of course, highly material to the question before this Court to ascertain petitioner's character and background. He is a Negro, 27 years old in 1953, who started school at age eight and left at 16 while still in the third grade. There was testimony by three psychiatrists at the trial, in connection with a pleaded defense of insanity, to the effect that petitioner is a schizophrenic, and highly suggestible. His mother testified that he had always been "thick-headed." Petitioner worked in a gas station in his home town of Marion, some 30 miles from Selma. So far as appears, his only prior involvement with the law was a conviction for burglary of a store in November, 1949; he was released on parole in January, 1951.

The questioning of petitioner was conducted principally by Captain Baker of the Selma police. His testimony that he repeatedly advised petitioner "that he was entitled to counsel and his various rights" must be viewed in the light of the facts concerning petitioner's mentality and experience just outlined.

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[77 S.Ct. 283] The interrogation began on Sunday, May 17, with a two-hour session in the morning in Captain Baker's office. That afternoon, petitioner was questioned for two and a half or three hours, during part of which time he was driven around the city to some of the locations of the unsolved burglaries. During this ride, petitioner also talked to the sheriff of his home county, who had been called to Selma at petitioner's request, according to Captain Baker's testimony.

On Monday, petitioner talked with his employer...

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