357 U.S. 433 (1958), 178, Crooker v. California

Docket Nº:No. 178
Citation:357 U.S. 433, 78 S.Ct. 1287, 2 L.Ed.2d 1448
Party Name:Crooker v. California
Case Date:June 30, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 433

357 U.S. 433 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 1287, 2 L.Ed.2d 1448




No. 178

United States Supreme Court

June 30, 1958

Argued April 2, 1958



Petitioner, a 31-year-old college graduate who had attended the first year of law school and had studied criminal law, was convicted in a state court of murder and sentenced to death, and his conviction was affirmed by the State Supreme Court. He claims that his conviction violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because (1) the confession admitted in evidence over his objection was coerced, and (2), even if it was voluntary, it occurred while he was without counsel because of denials of his requests for an opportunity to obtain counsel. During the 14 hours between his arrest and confession, he asked several times for an opportunity to get counsel, but this was denied until after he had confessed. Meanwhile, he refused to take a lie detector test, refused to answer many questions, and showed full awareness of his right to be silent. He was advised by a police lieutenant that he need not answer any questions he did not wish to answer. The questioning by several police officers was intermittent, and petitioner was given coffee, milk, and a sandwich, and allowed to smoke whenever he liked.

Held: the judgment is affirmed. Pp. 431-441.

1. On the record, this Court is unable to say that petitioner's confession was anything other than voluntary. Pp. 434-438.

2. Denial by state officials of the request of an accused for an opportunity to engage counsel at any stage of the pretrial proceedings in a criminal case violates due process if he is so prejudiced thereby as to make his subsequent trial lacking in basic fairness, but the record in this case does not show that petitioner was so prejudiced. Pp. 438-441.

47 Cal.2d 348, 303 P.2d 753, affirmed.

Page 434

CLARK, J., lead opinion

[78 S.Ct. 1289] MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, under sentence of death for the murder of his paramour, claims that his conviction in a California court violates Fourteenth Amendment due process of law because (1) the confession admitted into evidence over his objection had been coerced from him by state authorities, and (2) even if his confession was voluntary, it occurred while he was without counsel because of the previous denial of his request therefor. The Supreme Court of California affirmed the conviction. 47 Cal.2d 348, 303 P.2d 753. Certiorari was granted because of the serious due process implications that attend state denial of a request to employ an attorney. 354 U.S. 908 (1957).1 We conclude, however, that no violation of constitutional right has occurred.

The record here clearly reveals that, prior to petitioner's confession, he asked for and was denied opportunity to call his lawyer. We first consider that denial in connection with petitioner's contention that his subsequent confession was involuntary in nature.

It is well established that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits use of coerced confessions in state prosecutions. E.g., Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1936); Watts v.

Page 435

Indiana, 338 U.S. 49 (1949); Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191 (1957). As in Thomas v. Arizona, 356 U.S. 390, and Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U.S. 560, we consider the undisputed facts in the record to ascertain whether the confession resulted from police coercion or the exercise of petitioner's own free will.

The victim's son discovered her body the morning of July 5, 1955, stabbed and strangled to death in the bedroom of her Los Angeles home. She was last known to be alive about 1 a.m. the same day, when she talked with a friend by telephone.

Petitioner was arrested in his apartment at 1:30 that afternoon, and subsequently was charged with the murder. He was then 31 years of age, a college graduate who had attended the first year of law school. While going to law school, he had been a house boy in the home of the victim. That position led to an illicit relationship with her, which she had attempted several times to terminate in the month preceding her death. The week of her death, after telling petitioner they had been found out, she had requested, and he had agreed, that he would never see her again.

Despite this understanding, he returned to her house late in the afternoon of July 4. Finding no one at home, he hid nearby for the ostensible purpose of discovering who was "threatening" her. From his hiding place, he watched the victim return home with an escort around midnight. Shortly thereafter, he saw the escort leave, and watched the victim talk on the telephone. He claims that he then left the vicinity to return to his apartment, never having entered the house that evening.

At the time of his arrest, petitioner was questioned about scratches that were evident on his neck and hands. He attributed the former to shaving and the [78 S.Ct. 1290] latter to a traffic mishap on his way to the beach on July 4. However, he refused to reveal where the accident occurred.

Page 436

After his apartment was searched, petitioner was taken to the Los Angeles Police Station, where he was photographed and asked to take a lie detector test. He refused to submit to the test, and indicated that he wanted to call an attorney. At no time, however, does it appear that petitioner was offered the use of a telephone. Aside from sporadic questioning at his apartment, petitioner was interrogated for the first time from 8:30-9:30 p.m., the questioning being conducted by four officers and centering around his refusal of the lie detector test. During this time, he asked for an opportunity to get a lawyer, naming a specific attorney whom he thought might represent him, but was told that "after [the] investigation was concluded, he could call an attorney."

At 9:30 p.m., petitioner was transferred to the West Los Angeles Police Station, where five officers questioned him from 11 p.m. until shortly after midnight. He then was formally "booked," and given a physical examination by a police physician. The third and last questioning period was conducted by the same five men from approximately 1-2 a.m. July 6. For the next hour, petitioner wrote and signed a detailed confession of the murder. Afterward, he was taken to the victim's home to reenact the crime. At 5 a.m., he was put in jail and permitted to sleep.

That afternoon, a full day after his arrest, he was taken to the office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney to orally repeat the written confession. Petitioner balked at doing so, and again asked that his attorney be called. Thereupon, the District Attorney placed the call for him and listened to the conversation while petitioner talked on an extension phone with the attorney. Neither petitioner nor his attorney was aware that a tape recording was being made of everything that transpired in the office. The District Attorney interrupted at one point to deny that petitioner was forced to answer police questions,

Page 437

and later to advise that the most convenient time for the attorney to see petitioner would be at 7 p.m. back at the West Los Angeles Police Station. After the phone call, petitioner was returned to jail to meet his attorney that evening. From that time forward, through both arraignment and trial, he was represented by his own counsel.

In the 14 hours between his arrest and confession, petitioner was given coffee and allowed to smoke whenever he liked. He also was given milk and a sandwich a few hours after his arrest. Before being transferred to the West Los Angeles Police Station, he was advised by a police lieutenant, "You don't have to say anything that you don't want to," and he in fact refused to answer many questions both before and after the transfer. At such times, he simply stated he "would rather not answer, or rather not make a statement about that."

The bare fact of police "detention and police examination in private of one in official state custody" does not render involuntary a confession by the one so detained. Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 476 (1953). Neither does an admonition by the police to tell the truth, Spraf v. United States, 156 U.S. 51, 55-56 (1895), nor the failure of state authorities to comply with local statutes requiring that an accused promptly be brought before a magistrate.2 Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191 (1957).

[78 S.Ct. 1291] Petitioner's claim of coercion, then, depends almost entirely on denial of his request to contact...

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