388 U.S. 14 (1967), 649, Washington v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 649
Citation:388 U.S. 14, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019
Party Name:Washington v. Texas
Case Date:June 12, 1967
Court:United States Supreme Court

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388 U.S. 14 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019




No. 649

United States Supreme Court

June 12, 1967

Argued March 15-16, 1967



Petitioner and another were charged with a fatal shooting. Petitioner's alleged co-participant was tried first and convicted of murder. At petitioner's trial for the same murder, he sought to secure his co-participant's testimony, which would have been vital for his defense. On the basis of two Texas statutes which, at the time of trial, prevented a participant accused of a crime from testifying for his coparticipant (but not for the prosecution), the judge sustained the State's objection to the coparticipant's testimony. Petitioner's conviction ensued, and was upheld on appeal.


1. The right under the Sixth Amendment of a defendant in a criminal case to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 17-19.

2. The State arbitrarily denied petitioner the right to have the material testimony for him of a witness concerning events which that witness observed, and thus denied him the right to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor. Pp. 19-23.

400 S.W.2d 756, reversed.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the right of a defendant in a criminal case under the

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Sixth Amendment1 to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment,2 and whether that right was violated by a state procedural statute providing that persons charged as principals, accomplices, or accessories in the same crime cannot be introduced as witnesses for each other.

Petitioner, Jackie Washington, was convicted in Dallas County, Texas, of murder with malice, and was sentenced by a jury to 50 years in prison. The prosecution's evidence showed that petitioner, an 18-year-old youth, had dated a girl named Jean Carter until her mother had forbidden her to see him. The girl thereafter began dating another boy, the deceased. Evidently motivated by jealousy, petitioner with several other boys began driving around the City of Dallas on the night of August 29, 1964, looking for a gun. The search eventually led to one Charles Fuller, who joined the group with his shotgun. After obtaining some shells from another source, the group of boys proceeded to Jean Carter's home, where Jean, her family and the deceased were having supper. Some of the boys threw bricks at the house and then ran back to the car, leaving petitioner and Fuller alone in front of the house with the shotgun. At the sound of the bricks, the deceased and Jean Carter's mother rushed out on the porch to investigate. The shotgun was fired by either petitioner or Fuller, and the

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deceased was fatally wounded. Shortly afterward, petitioner and Fuller came running back to the car, where the other boys waited, with Fuller carrying the shotgun.

Petitioner testified in his own behalf. He claimed that Fuller, who was intoxicated, had taken the gun from him, and that he had unsuccessfully tried to persuade Fuller to leave before the shooting. Fuller had insisted that he was going to shoot someone, and petitioner had run back to the automobile. He saw the girl's mother come out of the door as he began running, and he subsequently heard the shot. At the time, he had thought that Fuller had shot the woman. In support of his version of the facts, petitioner offered the testimony of Fuller. The record indicates that Fuller would have testified that petitioner pulled at him and tried to persuade him to leave, and that petitioner ran before Fuller fired the fatal shot.

[87 S.Ct. 1922] It is undisputed that Fuller's testimony would have been relevant and material, and that it was vital to the defense. Fuller was the only person other than petitioner who knew exactly who had fired the shotgun and whether petitioner had, at the last minute, attempted to prevent the shooting. Fuller, however, had been previously convicted of the same murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison,3 and he was confined in the Dallas County jail. Two Texas statutes provided at the time of the trial in this case that persons charged or convicted as coparticipants in the same crime could not testify for one another,4 although there was no bar to their testifying

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for the State.5 On the basis of these statutes, the trial judge sustained the State's objection and refused to allow Fuller to testify. Petitioner's conviction followed, and it was upheld on appeal by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 400 S.W.2d 756. We granted certiorari. 385 U.S. 812. We reverse.


We have not previously been called upon to decide whether the right of an accused to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, guaranteed in federal trials by the Sixth Amendment, is so fundamental and essential to a fair trial that it is incorporated in the

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Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.6 At one time, it was thought that the Sixth Amendment had no application to state criminal trials.7 That view no longer prevails, and, in recent years, we have increasingly looked to the specific guarantees of the Sixth Amendment to determine whether a state criminal trial was conducted with due process of law. We have held that due process requires that the accused have the assistance of counsel for his defense,8 that he be confronted with the [87 S.Ct. 1923] witnesses against him,9 and that he have the right to a speedy10 and public11 trial.

The right of an accused to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor stands on no lesser footing than the other Sixth Amendment rights that we have previously held applicable to the States. This Court had occasion in In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257 (1948), to describe what it regarded as the most basic ingredients of due process of law. It observed that:

A person's right to reasonable notice of a charge against him, and an opportunity to be heard in his defense -- a right to his day in court -- are basic in our system of jurisprudence, and these rights include, as a minimum, a right to examine the witnesses against him, to offer testimony, and to be represented by counsel.

333 U.S. at 273 (footnote omitted).

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The right to offer the testimony of witnesses, and to compel their attendance, if necessary, is in plain terms the right to present a defense, the right to present...

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