384 U.S. 737 (1966), 815, Davis v. North Carolina

Docket Nº:No. 815
Citation:384 U.S. 737, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 16 L.Ed.2d 895
Party Name:Davis v. North Carolina
Case Date:June 20, 1966
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 737

384 U.S. 737 (1966)

86 S.Ct. 1761, 16 L.Ed.2d 895

Davis

v.

North Carolina

No. 815

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1966

Argued April 28, 1966

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, an impoverished Negro of low mentality with a third or fourth grade education, was arrested after his escape from a state prison camp. Charlotte city police took him into custody in connection with a murder investigation, and kept him in a detention cell for 16 days, where he spoke to no one but the police, who interrogated him intermittently each day. He finally confessed to the crime. There is no indication in the record that police advised him of any of his rights until after his confessions. At his trial for rape-murder, a written confession and testimony of an oral confession were introduced in evidence despite counsel's objection that the confessions were involuntary. Petitioner was found guilty and sentenced to death. The conviction was affirmed by the North Carolina Supreme Court. The Federal District Court denied a writ of habeas corpus, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing on the voluntariness of the confessions. The District Court, following a hearing, held the confessions voluntary, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Petitioner's confessions were the involuntary end product of coercive influences, and thus constitutionally inadmissible in evidence. Pp. 739-753.

(a) Had this trial occurred after Miranda v. Arizona, ante, p. 436, the decision below would be reversed summarily. P. 739.

(b) As Johnson v. New Jersey, ante, p. 719, points out, the nonretroactivity of Miranda does not affect a court's duty to consider the voluntariness of statements under the standards of voluntariness which had begun to evolve long prior to Miranda and Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478. P. 740.

(c) The fact that a defendant was not advised of his right to remain silent or of his right to counsel at the outset of interrogation, as is now required by Miranda, is significant in considering the voluntariness of later statements. Pp. 740-741.

(d) It is this Court's duty to examine the entire record and make an independent determination of the ultimate issue of voluntariness. Pp. 741-742.

Page 738

(e) The uncontested fact that no one other than the police spoke to petitioner during his 16 days' detention and interrogation is significant in determining voluntariness. Pp. 745-746.

(f) Evidence of extended interrogation in a coercive atmosphere, as here, has often resulted in a finding of involuntariness by this Court, e.g., Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191. This Court has never sustained the use of a confession obtained after such a lengthy period of detention and interrogation as occurred here. P. 752.

339 F.2d 770 reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

Opinion of the Court by MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN, announced by MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN.

Petitioner, Elmer Davis, Jr., was tried before a jury in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on a charge of rape-murder. At trial, a written confession and testimony as to an oral confession were offered in evidence. Defense counsel objected on the ground that the confessions were involuntarily given. The trial judge heard testimony on this issue, ruled that the confessions were made voluntarily, and permitted them to be introduced in evidence. The jury returned a verdict of guilty without a recommendation for life imprisonment, and Davis was sentenced to death.

The conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, 253 N.C. 86, 116 S.E.2d 365, and this Court denied certiorari. 365 U.S. 855. Davis then sought a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The writ was denied without an evidentiary hearing on the basis of the state court record . 196 F.Supp. 488.

Page 739

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the voluntariness of Davis' confessions. 310 F.2d 904. A hearing was held in the District Court, following which the District Judge again held that the confessions were voluntary. 221 F.Supp. 494. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, after argument and then resubmission en banc, affirmed with two judges dissenting. 339 F.2d 770. We granted certiorari. 382 U.S. 953.

We are not called upon in this proceeding to pass on the guilt or innocence of the petitioner of the atrocious crime that was committed. Nor are we called upon to determine whether the confessions obtained are true or false. Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534 (1961). The sole issue presented for review is whether the confessions were voluntarily given or were the result of overbearing by police authorities. Upon thorough review of the record, we have concluded that the confessions were not made freely and voluntarily, but rather that Davis' will was overborne by the sustained pressures upon him. Therefore, the confessions are constitutionally inadmissible, and the judgment of the court below must be reversed.

Had the trial in this case before us come after our decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, we would reverse summarily. Davis was taken into custody by Charlotte police and interrogated repeatedly over a period of 16 days. There is no indication in the record that police advised him of any of his rights until after he had confessed orally on the 16th day.1 This would

Page 740

be clearly improper under Miranda. Id. at 478-479, 492. Similarly, no waiver of rights could be inferred from this record, since it shows only that Davis was repeatedly interrogated and that he denied the alleged offense prior to the time he finally confessed. Id. at 476, 499.

We have also held today, in Johnson v. New Jersey, ante, p. 719, that our decision in Miranda, delineating procedures to safeguard the Fifth Amendment privilege [86 S.Ct. 1764] against self-incrimination during in-custody interrogation, is to be applied prospectively only. Thus, the present case may not be reversed solely on the ground that warnings were not given, and waiver not shown. As we pointed out in Johnson, however, the nonretroactivity of the decision in Miranda does not affect the duty of courts to consider claims that a statement was taken under circumstances which violate the standards of voluntariness which had begun to evolve long prior to our decisions in Miranda and Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964). This Court has undertaken to review the voluntariness of statements obtained by police in state cases since Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1936). The standard of voluntariness which has evolved in state cases under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is the same general standard which applied in federal prosecutions -- a standard grounded in the policies of the privilege against self-incrimination. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 6-8 (1964).

The review of voluntariness in cases in which the trial was held prior to our decisions in Escobedo and Miranda is not limited in any manner by these decisions. On the contrary, that a defendant was not advised of his right to remain silent or of his right respecting counsel at the outset of interrogation, as is now required by Miranda, is a significant factor in considering the voluntariness of statements later made. This factor has been recognized in several of our prior decisions

Page 741

dealing with standards of voluntariness. Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 510-511 (1963); Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 610 (1961); Turner v. Pennsylvania, 338 U.S. 62, 64 (1949). See also Gallegos v. Colorado, 370 U.S. 49, 54, 55 (1962). Thus, the fact that Davis was never effectively advised of his rights gives added weight to the other circumstances described below which made his confessions involuntary.

As is almost invariably so in cases involving confessions obtained through unobserved police interrogation, there is a conflict in the testimony as to the events surrounding the interrogations. Davis alleged that he was beaten, threatened, and cursed by police, and that he was told he would get a hot bath and something to eat as soon as he signed a statement. This was flatly denied by each officer who testified.2 Davis further stated that he had repeatedly asked for a lawyer, and that police refused to allow him to obtain one. This was also denied. Davis' sister testified at the habeas corpus hearing that she twice came to the police station and asked to see him, but that each time police officers told her Davis was not having visitors. Police officers testified that, on the contrary, upon learning of Davis' desire to see his sister, they went to her home to tell her Davis wanted to see her, but she informed them she was busy with her children. These factual allegations were resolved against Davis by the District Court, and we need not review these specific findings here.

It is our duty in this case, however, as in all of our prior cases dealing with the question whether a confession was involuntarily given, to examine the entire record

Page 742

and make an independent determination of the ultimate issue of voluntariness. E.g., Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 515-516 (1963); Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 205 (1960); Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 147-148 (1944). Wholly apart from the disputed facts, a statement of the case from facts established in the record, in our view, leads plainly to the conclusion that the confessions were the product of a will overborne.

Elmer Davis is an impoverished Negro with a...

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