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...

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