395 U.S. 250 (1969), 750, Harrington v. California

Docket Nº:No. 750
Citation:395 U.S. 250, 89 S.Ct. 1726, 23 L.Ed.2d 284
Party Name:Harrington v. California
Case Date:June 02, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 250

395 U.S. 250 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 1726, 23 L.Ed.2d 284

Harrington

v.

California

No. 750

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1969

Argued April 23, 1969

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA,

SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT

Syllabus

Petitioner, who is white, and three Negro codefendants (Bosby, Rhone, and Cooper) were tried for first-degree murder. Petitioner's statements placed him at the scene of the crime. He admitted that Bosby was the trigger man; that he fled with the other three, and that, after the murder, he dyed his hair and shaved off his moustache. Eyewitnesses placed petitioner at the scene of the crime, but some had previously said that four Negroes committed the crime. The three codefendants confessed, and their confessions were introduced at trial. Rhone's confession placed petitioner inside the store with a gun at the time of the crime. Rhone took the stand and petitioner's counsel cross-examined him. Bosby and Cooper did not take the stand, and in their confessions, which mentioned petitioner (not by name, but as "the white guy" or by similar terms), said that they did not see "the white guy" with a gun. All four codefendants were found guilty of first-degree murder, the California Court of Appeal affirmed, and the State Supreme Court denied a petition for a hearing.

Held: Apart from the cumulative nature of the confessions of the two codefendants who did not take the stand, the evidence against petitioner consisting of direct testimony, as opposed to circumstantial evidence, was so overwhelming that the violation of Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (which held that the admission of a confession of a codefendant who did not take the stand deprived the defendant of his rights under the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause), was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18. Pp. 251-254.

256 Cal.App.2d 209, 64 Cal.Rptr. 159, affirmed.

Page 251

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

We held in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, that

before a federal constitutional error can be held harmless, the court must be able to declare a belief that it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Id. at 24. We said that, although "there are some constitutional rights so basic to a fair trial that their infraction can never be treated as harmless error" (id. at 23), not all

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"trial errors which violate the Constitution automatically call for reversal." Ibid.

The question whether the alleged error in the present case was "harmless" under the rule of Chapman arose in a state trial for attempted robbery and first-degree murder. Four men were tried together -- Harrington, a Caucasian, and Bosby, Rhone, and Cooper, Negroes -- over an objection by Harrington that his trial should be severed. Each of his three codefendants confessed and their confessions were introduced at the trial with limiting instructions that the jury was to consider each confession only against the confessor. Rhone took the stand, and Harrington's counsel cross-examined him. The other two did not take the stand.1

In Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, a confession of a codefendant who did not take the stand was used against Bruton in a federal prosecution. We held that Bruton had been denied his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. Since the Confrontation Clause is applicable as well in state trials by reason of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400), the rule of Bruton applies here.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed the convictions, 256 Cal.App.2d 209, 64 Cal.Rptr. 159, and the Supreme Court denied a petition for a hearing. We granted the petition for certiorari to consider whether the violation of Bruton was, on these special facts, harmless [89 S.Ct. 1728] error under Chapman.

Petitioner made statements which fell short of a confession but which placed him at the scene of the crime. He admitted that Bosby was the trigger man;

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that he fled with the other three, and that, after the murder, he dyed his hair black and shaved off his moustache. Several eyewitnesses placed petitioner at the scene of the crime. But two of them had previously told the police that four Negroes committed the crime. Rhone's confession, however, placed Harrington inside the store with a gun at the time of the attempted robbery and murder.

Cooper's confession did not refer to Harrington by name. He referred to the fourth man as "the white boy" or "this white guy." And he described him by age, height, and weight.

Bosby's confession likewise did not mention Harrington by name, but referred to him as a blond-headed fellow or "the white guy" or "the Patty."

Both Cooper and Bosby said in their confessions that they did not see "the white guy" with a gun, which is at variance with the testimony of the prosecution witnesses.

Petitioner argues that it is irrelevant that he was not named in Cooper's and Bosby's confessions, that reference to "the white guy" made it as clear as pointing and shouting that the person referred to was the white man in the dock with the three Negroes. We make the same assumption. But we conclude that, on these special facts, the lack of opportunity to cross-examine Cooper and Bosby constituted harmless error under the rule of Chapman.

Rhone, whom Harrington's counsel cross-examined, placed him in the store with a gun at the time of the murder. Harrington himself agreed he was there. Others testified he had a gun and was an active participant. Cooper and Bosby did not put a gun in his hands when he denied...

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