372 U.S. 528 (1963), 9, Lynumn v. Illinois

Docket Nº:No. 9
Citation:372 U.S. 528, 83 S.Ct. 917, 9 L.Ed.2d 922
Party Name:Lynumn v. Illinois
Case Date:March 25, 1963
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 528

372 U.S. 528 (1963)

83 S.Ct. 917, 9 L.Ed.2d 922




No. 9

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1963

Argued February 19, 1963



Petitioner was tried in an Illinois State Court, convicted of the unlawful possession and sale of marijuana, and sentenced to imprisonment. Her conviction was sustained by the State Supreme Court, notwithstanding the admission in evidence at her trial of an oral confession obtained by threats of police officers that, if she did not "cooperate," she would be deprived of state financial aid for her dependent children, and that her children would be taken from her and she might never see them again.

Held: Petitioner's confession was coerced, its admission in evidence violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the judgment affirming her conviction is reversed. Pp. 529-538.

1. Petitioner's confession, made in the circumstances shown by this record, was coerced. Pp. 529-534.

2. In view of a certification to this Court by the State Supreme Court that "decision of the federal claim . . . was necessary to our judgment in this case," it cannot be said that petitioner failed properly to assert or preserve that claim at her trial and that, therefore, her conviction rests upon an adequate and independent state ground. Pp. 535-536.

3. It cannot be said that petitioner's conviction did not rest in any part on her confession, because the record affirmatively shows that her confession was admitted in evidence and considered by the trial and appellate courts. P. 536.

4. Admission of petitioner's coerced confession in evidence was not harmless error, even if the other evidence was sufficient to support her conviction. Pp. 536-538.

21 Ill.2d 63, 171 N.E.2d 17, reversed.

Page 529

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was tried in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois, on an indictment charging her with the unlawful possession and sale of marijuana. She was convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for "not less than ten nor more than eleven years." The judgment of conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court. 21 Ill.2d 63, 171 N.E.2d 17. We granted certiorari 370 U.S. 933. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we hold that the petitioner's trial did not meet the demands of due process of law, and we accordingly set aside the judgment before us.

On January 17, 1959, three Chicago police officers arrested James Zeno for unlawful possession of narcotics. They took him to a district police station. There they told him that, if he "would set somebody up for them, they would go light" on him. He agreed to "cooperate," and telephoned the petitioner, telling her that he was coming over to her apartment. The officers and Zeno then went to the petitioner's apartment house, and Zeno went upstairs to the third floor while the officers waited below. Some time later, variously estimated as from five to 20 minutes, Zeno emerged from the petitioner's third floor apartment with a package containing a substance later determined to be marijuana. The officers took the package and told Zeno to return to the petitioner's apartment on the pretext that he had left his glasses there. When the petitioner walked out into the hallway in response to Zeno's call, one of the officers seized her and placed her under arrest.1 The officers and

Page 530

Zeno then entered the petitioner's apartment.2 The petitioner at first denied she had sold the marijuana to Zeno, insisting that, while he was in her apartment, Zeno had merely repaid a loan. After further conversations with the officers, however, she told them that she had sold the marijuana to Zeno.

The officers testified to this oral confession at the petitioner's trial, and it is this testimony which, we now hold, fatally infected the petitioner's conviction. The petitioner testified at the trial that she had not, in fact, sold any marijuana to Zeno, that Zeno had merely repaid a longstanding loan.3 She also testified, however, that she

Page 531

had told the officers on [83 S.Ct. 919] the day of her arrest that she had sold Zeno marijuana, describing the circumstances under which this statement was made as follows:

I told him [Officer Sims] I hadn't sold Zeno; I didn't know anything about narcotics, and I had no source of supply. He kept insisting I had a source of supply and had been dealing in narcotics. I kept telling him I did not, and that I knew nothing about it. Then he started telling me I could get 10 years and the children could be taken away, and after I got out they would be taken away and strangers would have them, and if I could cooperate, he would see they weren't; and he would recommend leniency, and I had better do what they told me if I wanted to see my kids again. The two children are three and four years old. Their father is dead; they live with me. I love my children very much. I have never been arrested for anything in my whole life before. I did not know how much power a policeman had in a recommendation to the State's Attorney or to the Court. I did not know that a Court and a State's Attorney are not bound by a police officer's recommendations. I did not know anything about it. All the officers talked to me about my children and the time I could get for not cooperating. All three officers did. After that conversation I believed that if I cooperated with them and answered the questions the way they wanted me to answer, I believed that I would not be prosecuted. They had said I had better say what they wanted me to, or I would lose the kids. I said I would say anything they wanted me to say. I asked what I was to say. I was told to

Page 532

say "You must admit you gave Zeno the package" so I said, "Yes, I gave it to him."

* * * *

. . . The only reason I had for admitting it to the police was the hope of saving myself from going to jail and being taken away from my children. The statement I made to the police after they promised that they would intercede for me, the statements admitting the crime, were false.

* * * *

. . . My statement to the police officers that I sold the marijuana to Zeno was false. I lied to the police at that time. I lied because the police told me they were going to send me to jail for 10 years and take my children, and I would never see them again; so I agreed to say whatever they wanted me to say.

The police officers did not deny that these were the circumstances under which the petitioner told them that she had sold marijuana to Zeno. To the contrary, their testimony largely corroborated the petitioner's testimony. Officer Sims testified:

I told her then that Zeno had been trapped and we asked him to cooperate; that he had made a phone call to her and subsequently had purchased the evidence from her. I told her then if she wished to cooperate, we would be willing to recommend to the State leniency in her case. At that time, she said, "Yes, I did sell it to him."

* * * *

. . . While I was talking to her in the bedroom, she told me that she [83 S.Ct. 920] had children and she had taken the children over to her mother-in-law, to keep her children.

Page 533

Q. Did you or anybody in your presence indicate or suggest or say to her that her children would be taken away from her if she didn't do what you asked her to do?

Witness: I believe there was some mention of her children being taken away from her if she was arrested.

The Court: By whom? Who made mention of it?

The Witness: I believe Officer Bryson made that statement, and I think I made the statement at some time during the course of our discussion that her children could be taken from her. We did not say if she cooperated they wouldn't be taken. I don't know whether Kobar said that to her or not. I don't recall if Kobar said that to her or not.

* * * *

I asked her who the clothing belonged to. She said they were her children's. I asked how many she had, and she said 2. I asked her where they were or who took care of them. She said the children were over at the mother's or mother-in-law. I asked her how did she take care of herself, and she said she was on ADC. I told her that if we took her into the station and charged her with the offense, that the ADC would probably be cut off and also that she would probably lose custody of her children. That was not before I said if she cooperated, it would go light on her. It was during the same conversation.

* * * *

. . . I made the statement to her more than once; but I don't know how many times, that she had been set up, and, if she cooperated, we would go light with her.

Page 534


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