378 U.S. 368 (1964), 62, Jackson v. Denno

Docket Nº:No. 62
Citation:378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908
Party Name:Jackson v. Denno
Case Date:June 22, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 368

378 U.S. 368 (1964)

84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908




No. 62

United States Supreme Court

June 22, 1964

Argued December 9-10, 1963




Petitioner, after robbing a hotel, fatally wounded a policeman and himself received two bullet wounds. Questioned shortly after arrival at a hospital, he admitted the shooting and the robbery. Some time later, after considerable loss of blood and soon after he had been given drugs, he was interrogated and admitted firing the first shot at the policeman. Petitioner was indicted for murder, and both statements were admitted at the trial, at which petitioner's testimony differed in some important respects from the confessions. In accord with New York practice where the voluntariness of a confession is attacked, the trial court submitted that issue, with the others, to the jury. The jury was told to disregard the confession entirely if it was found involuntary, and to determine the guilt or innocence solely from other evidence; or, if it found the confession voluntary, it was to determine its truth or reliability and weigh it accordingly. The jury found petitioner guilty of first-degree murder, the New York Court of Appeals affirmed, and this Court denied certiorari. Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus asserting that the New York procedure for determining voluntariness of a confession was unconstitutional and that his confession was involuntary. The District Court denied the petition and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. Under the New York procedure, the trial judge must make a preliminary determination of the voluntariness of a confession and exclude it if in no circumstances could the confession be deemed voluntary. If the evidence presents a fair question as to its voluntariness, as where certain facts bearing on the issue are in dispute or where reasonable men could differ over the inferences to be drawn from the undisputed facts, the judge must admit the confession and leave to the jury, under proper instructions, the determination of its voluntary character and also of its truthfulness. This procedure does not provide an adequate and reliable determination of the voluntariness of the confession, and does not adequately protect the petitioner's right not to be convicted through the use of a coerced confession, and is therefore violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, overruled. Pp. 376-391.

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(a) It is a deprivation of due process of law to base a conviction in whole or in part on a coerced confession, regardless of its truth, and even though there may be sufficient other evidence to support the conviction. P. 376.

(b) A defendant has a constitutional right to a fair hearing and reliable determination of the voluntariness of a confession, not influenced by its truth or falsity. Pp. 376-377.

(c) It is impossible to tell whether the trial jury found the confession voluntary and relied on it, or involuntary and supposedly ignored it, but for the Court to accept these alternatives is to fail to protect the rights of the accused. Pp. 379-391.

(d) Under the New York procedure, the evidence given the jury inevitably injects irrelevant and impermissible considerations of truthfulness of the confession into the assessment of voluntariness. Alternatively there is the danger that a confession found to be coerced plays some part in the jury's deliberations on guilt or innocence. Pp. 386-389.

2. Petitioner is entitled to a state court hearing on the issue of the voluntariness of the confession by a body other than the one trying his guilt or innocence, but that does not necessarily entitle him to a new trial. Pp. 391-396.

(a) If, at an evidentiary hearing on the coercion issue, it is determined that the confession was voluntary and admissible in evidence, a new trial is unnecessary. P. 394.

(b) If it is determined at the hearing that the confession was involuntary, a new trial, at which the confession is excluded, is required. P. 394.

309 F.2d 573, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, Jackson, has filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Federal District Court asserting that his conviction for murder in the New York courts is invalid because it was founded upon a confession not properly

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determined to be voluntary. The writ was denied, 206 F.Supp. 759 (D.C.S.D.N.Y.), the Court of Appeals affirmed, 309 F.2d 573 (C.A.2d Cir.), and we granted certiorari to consider fundamental questions about the constitutionality of the New York procedure governing the admissibility of a confession alleged to be involuntary.1 371 U.S. 967.


On June 14, 1960, at about 1 a.m., petitioner, Jackson, and Nora Elliott entered a Brooklyn hotel where Miss Elliott registered for both of them. After telling Miss Elliott to leave, which she did, Jackson drew a gun and took money from the room clerk. He ordered the clerk and several other people into an upstairs room and left the hotel, only to encounter Miss Elliott and later a policeman on the street. A struggle with the latter followed, in the course of which both men drew guns. The

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policeman was fatally wounded, and petitioner was shot twice in the body. He managed to hail a cab, however, which took him to the hospital.

A detective questioned Jackson at about 2 a.m., soon after his arrival at the hospital. Jackson, when asked for his name, said, "Nathan Jackson, I shot [84 S.Ct. 1778] the colored cop. I got the drop on him." He also admitted the robbery at the hotel. According to the detective, Jackson was in "strong" condition despite his wounds.

Jackson was given 50 milligrams of demerol and 1/50 of a grain of scopolamine at 3:55 a.m. Immediately thereafter, an Assistant District Attorney, in the presence of police officers and hospital personnel, questioned Jackson, the interrogation being recorded by a stenographer. Jackson, who had been shot in the liver and lung, had by this time lost about 500 cc. of blood. Jackson again admitted the robbery in the hotel, and then said, "Look, I can't go on." But,, in response to further questions, he admitted shooting the policeman and having fired the first shot.2 The interview was completed at 4 a.m. An

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operation upon petitioner was begun at 5 a.m. and completed at 8 a.m.

Jackson and Miss Elliott were indicted for murder in the first degree and were tried together. The statements made by Jackson, both at 2 and 3:55 a.m., were introduced in evidence without objection by Jackson's counsel. Jackson took the stand in his own defense. His account of the robbery and of the shooting of the policeman differed in some important respects from his confession. According to Jackson's testimony, there was a substantial interval of time between his leaving the hotel and the shooting, and the policeman attempted to draw his gun first and fired the first shot. As to the questioning at the hospital, Jackson recalled that he was in pain and gasping for breath at the time and was refused water and told he would not be let alone until the police had the answers they wanted. He knew that he had been interrogated, but could remember neither the questions nor the answers.

To counter Jackson's suggestion that he had been pressured into answering questions, the State offered the testimony of the attending physician and of several other persons. They agreed that Jackson was refused water, but because of the impending operation, rather than his refusal to answer questions. On cross-examination of the doctor, Jackson's counsel, with the help of the hospital

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records, elicited the fact that demerol and scopolamine were administered to Jackson immediately before his interrogation. But any effect of these drugs on Jackson during the interrogation was denied.3

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[84 S.Ct. 1779] Although Jackson's counsel did not specifically object to the admission of the confession initially, the trial court indicated its awareness that Jackson's counsel was questioning the circumstances under which Jackson was interrogated.4

In his closing argument, Jackson's counsel did not ask for an acquittal, but for a verdict of second-degree murder or manslaughter. Counsel's main effort was to negative the premeditation and intent necessary to first-degree murder and to separate the robbery felony from the killing. He made much of the testimony tending to show a substantial interval between leaving the hotel and the beginning of the struggle with the policeman. The details of that struggle and the testimony indicating the policeman fired the first shot were also stressed.

Consistent with the New York practice where a question has been raised about the voluntariness of a confession, the trial court submitted that issue to the jury along with the other issues in the case. The jury was told that if it found the confession involuntary, it was to disregard it entirely, and determine guilt or innocence

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solely from the other evidence in the case; alternatively, if it found the confession voluntary, it was to determine its truth or reliability and afford it weight accordingly.5

[84 S.Ct. 1780] The jury found Jackson guilty of murder in the first degree, Miss Elliott of manslaughter in the first degree. Jackson was sentenced to death, Miss Elliott to a prison

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term. Jackson's conviction was affirmed by the New York Court of Appeals, People v. Jackson, 10 N.Y.2d 780, 219 N.Y.S.2d 621, 177 N.E.2d 59, its remittitur being amended to show that it had necessarily passed upon the voluntariness of the confession and had found that Jackson's constitutional rights had not been violated. 10 N.Y.2d 816, 221 N.Y.S.2d 521, 178 N.E.2d 234. Certiorari was denied here. 368 U.S. 949. Jackson...

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