392 U.S. 219 (1968), 876, Harrison v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 876
Citation:392 U.S. 219, 88 S.Ct. 2008, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047
Party Name:Harrison v. United States
Case Date:June 10, 1968
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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392 U.S. 219 (1968)

88 S.Ct. 2008, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047

Harrison

v.

United States

No. 876

United States Supreme Court

June 10, 1968

Argued April 4, 1968

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

At petitioner's trial for murder, the prosecution introduced three in-custody confessions in which petitioner allegedly admitted the shotgun slaying of a man whom petitioner and two others had intended to rob. Following the admission of those confessions into evidence, petitioner (whose counsel's opening statement to the jury had announced that petitioner would not testify) took the stand. He testified that he and two companions had gone to the victim's house hoping to pawn a shotgun which accidentally killed the victim while petitioner was presenting it to him for inspection. Petitioner was found guilty, but the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that his confessions had been illegally obtained, and were hence inadmissible. On retrial, the prosecutor read to the jury petitioner's previous trial testimony (placing petitioner, shotgun in hand, at the scene of the killing), which was admitted into evidence over petitioner's objection that he had been induced to testify at the prior trial only because of the introduction against him of the inadmissible confessions. Petitioner was again convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, relying on the fact that petitioner "made a conscious tactical decision to seek acquittal by taking the stand after [his] in-custody statements had been let in. . . ."

Held: Petitioner's testimony at the former trial was inadmissible in the later proceeding because it was the fruit of the illegally procured confessions. Pp. 222-226.

(a) The same principle that prohibits the use of illegally obtained confessions likewise prohibits the use of any testimony impelled thereby, and if petitioner decided to testify in order to overcome the impact of those confessions, the testimony he gave was tainted by the same illegality that rendered the confessions themselves inadmissible. Pp. 222-224.

(b) Having illegally placed petitioner's confessions before the jury in the first place, the Government cannot demand that petitioner demonstrate that he would not have testified as he did if his inadmissible confessions had not been used; instead, the Government must show that its illegal action did not induce petitioner's testimony, and no such showing was made here. Pp. 224-225.

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(c) Even if petitioner would have decided to testify in any event, the natural inference, which the Government has not dispelled, is that he would not have made the damaging admission he did make on the witness stand had his confessions not already been spread before the jury. Pp. 225-226.

128 U.S.App.D.C. 245, 387 F.2d 203, reversed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was brought to trial before a jury in the District of Columbia upon a charge of felony murder.1 At that trial, the prosecution introduced three confessions allegedly made by the petitioner while he was in the custody of the police. After these confessions had been admitted in evidence, the petitioner took the witness stand and testified to his own version of the events leading to the victim's death. The jury found the petitioner guilty, but the Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, holding that the petitioner's confessions had been illegally obtained, and were therefore inadmissible in evidence against him. Harrison v. United States, 123 U.S.App.D.C. 230, 238, 359 F.2d 214, 222; on rehearing en banc, 123 U.S.App.D.C. 239, 359 F.2d 223.2

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The substance of the confessions was that the petitioner and two others, armed with a shotgun, had gone to the victim's house intending to rob him, and that the victim had been killed while resisting their entry into his home. In his testimony at trial, the petitioner said that he and his companions had gone to the victim's home hoping to pawn the shotgun, and that the victim was accidentally killed while the petitioner was presenting the gun to him for inspection.

Upon remand, the case again came to trial before a jury. This time, the prosecutor did not, of course, offer the alleged confessions in evidence. But he did read to the jury the petitioner's testimony at the prior trial -- testimony which placed the petitioner, shotgun in hand, at the scene of the killing. The testimony was read over the objection of defense counsel, who argued that the petitioner had been induced to testify at the former trial only because of the introduction against him of the inadmissible confessions. The petitioner was again convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.3 We granted certiorari to decide whether the petitioner's trial testimony was the inadmissible fruit of the illegally procured confessions.4

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[88 S.Ct. 2010] In this case, we need not and do not question the general evidentiary rule that a defendant's testimony at a former trial is admissible in evidence against him in later proceedings.5 A defendant who chooses to testify waives his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination with respect to the testimony he gives, and that waiver is no less effective or complete because the defendant may have been motivated to take the witness stand in the first place only by reason of the strength of the lawful evidence adduced against him.

Here, however, the petitioner testified only after the Government had illegally introduced into evidence three confessions, all wrongfully obtained,6 and the same principle that prohibits the use of confessions so procured also prohibits the use of any testimony impelled thereby -- the fruit of the poisonous tree, to invoke a time-worn metaphor. For the

essence of a provision forbidding the acquisition of evidence in a certain way is that not merely evidence so acquired shall not be used before the Court, but that it shall not be used at all.

Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 392.7

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In concluding that the petitioner's prior testimony could be used against him without regard to the confessions that had been introduced in evidence before he testified, the Court of Appeals relied on the fact that the petitioner had "made a conscious tactical decision to seek acquittal by taking the stand after [his] in-custody statements had been let in. . . ."8 But that observation is beside the point. The question is not whether the petitioner made a knowing decision to testify, but why. If he did so in order to overcome the impact of confessions illegally obtained, and hence improperly introduced, then his testimony was tainted by the same illegality that rendered the confessions themselves inadmissible.9 As Justice Tobriner wrote for the Supreme Court of California,

If the improper use of [a] defendant's extrajudicial confession impelled his testimonial admission of guilt, [88 S.Ct. 2011] . . . we could not, in order to shield

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the resulting conviction from reversal, separate what he told the jury on the witness stand from what he confessed to the police during interrogation.10

The remaining question is whether the petitioner's trial testimony was, in fact, impelled by the prosecution's wrongful use of his illegally obtained confessions. It is, of course, difficult to unravel the many considerations that might have led the petitioner to take the witness stand at his former trial. But, having illegally placed his confessions before the jury, the Government can hardly demand a demonstration by the petitioner that he would not have testified as he did if his inadmissible confessions had not been used. "The springs of conduct are subtle and varied," Mr. Justice Cardozo once observed.

One who meddles with them must not insist upon too nice a measure of proof that the spring which he released was effective to the exclusion of all

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others.11

Having "released the spring" by using the petitioner's unlawfully obtained confessions against him, the Government must show that its illegal action did not induce his testimony.12

No such showing has been made here. In his opening statement to the jury, defense counsel announced that the petitioner would not testify in his own behalf. Only after his confessions had been admitted in evidence did [88 S.Ct. 2012] he take the stand. It thus appears that, but for the use of his confessions, the petitioner might not have testified at all.13 But even if the petitioner would have decided to testify whether or not his confessions had been used, it does not follow that he would have admitted being at the scene of the crime and holding the gun when the fatal shot was fired. On the contrary, the more natural inference is that no testimonial admission so damaging would have been made if the prosecutor had not already

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spread the petitioner's confessions before the jury.14 That is an inference the Government has not dispelled.

It has not been demonstrated, therefore, that the petitioner's testimony was obtained "by means sufficiently distinguishable" from the underlying illegality "to be purged of the primary taint." Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488. Accordingly, the judgment must be

Reversed.

BLACK, J., dissenting

MR. JUSTICE BLACK, dissenting.

It seems to me that the Court in this...

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