356 U.S. 560 (1958), 99, Payne v. Arkansas

Docket Nº:No. 99
Citation:356 U.S. 560, 78 S.Ct. 844, 2 L.Ed.2d 975
Party Name:Payne v. Arkansas
Case Date:May 19, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 560

356 U.S. 560 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 844, 2 L.Ed.2d 975




No. 99

United States Supreme Court

May 19, 1958

Argued March 3, 1958



Petitioner, a mentally dull 19-year-old Negro with a fifth-grade education, was convicted in a state court of first degree murder and sentenced to death. At his trial, there was admitted in evidence, over his objection, a confession shown by undisputed evidence to have been obtained in the following circumstances: he was arrested without a warrant, and never taken before a magistrate or advised of his right to remain silent or to have counsel, as required by state law. After being held incommunicado for three days without counsel, advisor, or friend, and with very little food, he confessed after being told by the Chief of Police that "there would be 30 or 40 people there in a few minutes that wanted to get him," and that, if he would tell the truth, the Chief of Police probably would keep them from coming in.

Held: Petitioner was denied due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment; the judgment of the State Supreme Court affirming the conviction is reversed, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. Pp. 561-569.

(a) It is obvious from the totality of the course of conduct shown by undisputed evidence that the confession was coerced, and did not constitute an "expression of free choice." Pp. 562-567.

(b) Even though there may have been sufficient evidence, apart from the coerced confession, to support a conviction, the admission in evidence of the coerced confession over petitioner's objection vitiates the judgment because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 567-568.

(c) Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, distinguished. P. 568.

226 Ark. 910, 225 S.W.2d 312, reversed, and cause remanded.

Page 561

WHITTAKER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a 19-year-old Negro, was convicted by a jury in Jefferson County, Arkansas, of first degree murder, and sentenced to death by electrocution. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Arkansas, he pressed two main contentions: (1) that the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress, and in receiving in evidence over his objection a coerced and false confession, and that the error takes and deprives him of his life without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, and (2) that the trial court erred in overruling his motion to quash the panel of petit jurors upon the ground that Negroes were systematically excluded, or their number limited, in the selection of the jury panel, and that the error deprives him of the equal protection of the laws and of due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The court held that these contentions were without merit, and affirmed the judgment. 226 Ark. 910, 295 S.W.2d 312. He then applied to us for a writ of certiorari, based on these contentions, which we granted because the constitutional questions presented appeared to be substantial. 353 U.S. 929.

We will first consider petitioner's contention that the confession was coerced, and that its admission in evidence over his objection denied him due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

[78 S.Ct. 847] The use in a state criminal trial of a defendant's confession obtained by coercion -- whether physical or mental -- is forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment.1 Enforcement

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of the criminal laws of the States rests principally with the state courts, and generally their findings of fact, fairly made upon substantial and conflicting testimony as to the circumstances producing the contested confession -- as distinguished from inadequately supported findings or conclusions drawn from uncontroverted happenings -- are not this Court's concern;2 yet where the claim is that the prisoner's confession is the product of coercion, we are bound to make our own examination of the record to determine whether the claim is meritorious. "The performance of this duty cannot be foreclosed by the finding of a court, or the verdict of a jury, or both."3 The question for our decision, then, is whether the confession was coerced. That question can be answered only by reviewing the circumstances under which the confession was made. We therefore proceed to examine those circumstances as shown by this record.

Near 6:30 p.m. on October 4, 1955, J. M. Robertson, an elderly retail lumber dealer in the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was found in his office dead or dying from crushing blows inflicted upon his head. More than $450 was missing from the cash drawer. Petitioner, a 19-year-old Negro with a fifth-grade education,4 who had been employed by Robertson for several weeks, was suspected

Page 563

of the crime. He was interrogated that night at his home by the police, but they did not then arrest him. Near 11 a.m. the next day, October 5, he was arrested without a warrant and placed in a cell on the first floor of the city jail. Arkansas statutes provide that an arrest may be made without a warrant when an officer "has reasonable grounds for believing that the person arrested has committed a felony,"5 and that, when an arrest is made without a warrant, the person arrested "shall be forthwith carried before the most convenient magistrate of the county in which the arrest is made,"6 and when the person arrested is [78 S.Ct. 848] brought before such magistrate, it is the latter's duty to "state the charge [against the accused and to] inquire . . . whether he desires the aid of counsel [and to allow him] a reasonable opportunity" to obtain counsel.7 It is admitted that petitioner, though arrested without a warrant, was never taken before a magistrate, and that the statutes mentioned were not complied with.

Petitioner was held incommunicado without any charge against him from the time of his arrest at 11 a.m. on October 5 until after his confession on the afternoon of October 7, without counsel, advisor or friend being permitted to see him. Members of his family who sought to see him were turned away, because the police did not "make it a practice of letting anyone talk to [prisoners] while they are being questioned." Two of petitioner's brothers and three of his nephews were, to his knowledge, brought by the police to the city jail and questioned during the evening of petitioner's arrest, and one of his brothers was arrested and held in jail overnight. Petitioner asked permission to make a telephone call, but his request was denied.

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Petitioner was not given lunch after being lodged in the city jail on October 5, and missed the evening meal on that day because he was then being questioned in the office of the chief of police. Near 6:30 the next morning, October 6, he was taken by the police, without breakfast, and also without shoes or socks,8 on a trip to Little Rock, a distance of about 45 miles, for further questioning and a lie detector test, arriving there about 7:30 a.m. He was not given breakfast in that city, but was turned over to the state police, who gave him a lie detector test and questioned him for an extended time not shown in the record. At about 1 p.m. that day, he was given shoes and also two sandwiches -- the first food he had received in more than 25 hours. He was returned to the city jail in Pine Bluff at about 6:30 that evening -- too late for the evening meal -- and placed in a cell on the second floor. The next morning, October 7, he was given breakfast -- which, except for the two sandwiches he had been given at Little Rock at 1 p.m. the day before, was the only food he had received in more than 40 hours.

We come now to an even more vital matter. Petitioner testified,9 concerning the conduct that immediately induced his confession, as follows:

I was locked up upstairs and Chief Norman Young came up [about 1 p.m. on October 7] and told me that I had not told him all of the story -- he said that there was 30 or 40 people outside that wanted to get me, and he said if I would come in and tell him the truth that he would probably keep them from coming in.

When again asked what the chief of police had said to him on that occasion, petitioner testified:

Chief Norman Young said thirty or forty people

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were outside wanting to get in to me and he asked me if I wanted to make a confession he would try to keep them out.

The chief of police, on cross-examination, admitted that he had made the substance of that statement to petitioner,10 and had told him that he would [78 S.Ct. 849] be permitted to confess to the chief "in private." In this setting, petitioner immediately agreed to make a statement to the chief. The chief then took petitioner to his private office, and almost immediately after arriving at that place there was a knock on the door. The chief opened the door and stepped outside, leaving the door ajar, and petitioner heard him say "`He is fixing to confess now,' and he would like to have me alone."...

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