410 U.S. 690 (1973), 72-905, LaVallee v. Delle Rose

Docket Nº:No. 72-905
Citation:410 U.S. 690, 93 S.Ct. 1203, 35 L.Ed.2d 637
Party Name:LaVallee v. Delle Rose
Case Date:March 19, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 690

410 U.S. 690 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 1203, 35 L.Ed.2d 637



Delle Rose

No. 72-905

United States Supreme Court

March 19, 1973




Respondent's conviction for murder was based on his two confessions that, in subsequent New York court proceedings, were found to have been voluntary. In federal habeas corpus proceedings, the District Court, feeling unable to accord the state court the presumption of correctness because the state trial judge did not articulate to what extent he credited or rejected evidence and respondent's testimony, held its own hearing, found both confessions involuntary, and ordered respondent discharged from custody unless he was retried without the confessions. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that the state court's factual determination on the voluntariness issue did not meet the 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) requirement that it be accorded a presumption of correctness unless it appeared that the merits of the factual dispute were not resolved in the state court hearing.

Held: The state trial judge's determination, on the totality of the circumstances, evidences that he applied correct voluntariness standards and, since the District Court could have been reasonably certain that he would have granted relief if he had believed respondent's testimony, the courts below erroneously concluded that the opinion of the trial court did not meet the requirements of § 2254(d)(1).

Certiorari granted; 468 F.2d 1288, reversed and remanded.

Per curiam opinion.


The State of New York petitions for certiorari to review the adverse determination of the Court of Appeals in this federal habeas corpus proceeding directing the release * of respondent Pasquale Delle Rose. Delle Rose was serving a life [93 S.Ct. 1204] sentence for the premeditated murder of his wife in 1963. At his trial, occurring before Jackson

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v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), respondent was convicted by a jury which chose to credit his two confessions over his protestation of accidental involvement, and which presumably found them to be voluntary. On appeal, the New York appellate court directed the trial court to hold a special hearing to determine the voluntariness of his confessions in accordance with People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d 72, 204 N.E.2d 179 (1965), the State's procedural response to this Court's decision in Jackson v. Denno, supra.

On remand to the trial court, the State rested on the trial record, and the respondent, in addition to relying on the record, testified in his own behalf. After extensively summarizing the trial evidence and respondent's explanations of certain of his confession statements, the court concluded:

On all evidence, both at the trial and at the hearing, and after considering the totality of the circumstances, including the omission to warn defendant of his right to counsel and his right against self-incrimination, I find and decide that the respective confessions to the police and district attorney were, in all respects, voluntary and legally admissible in evidence at the trial. . . .

On this basis, respondent's conviction was affirmed by the New York appellate courts, 33 App.Div.2d 657, 27 N.Y.2d 882, 265 N.E.2d 770 (1970), and this Court denied certiorari, 402 U.S. 913 (1971).

Respondent then petitioned the United States District Court for a writ of habeas corpus alleging his confessions were involuntary. That court held that, since the state trial judge had "neglected to say how far he credited -- and to what extent, if any, he discounted or rejected" respondent's testimony and the evidence before him, there was no "adequate" determination within the meaning

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of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), which would have entitled the state court's findings to a presumption of correctness and placed on respondent the burden of establishing by convincing evidence that the state court's conclusion was erroneous. The District Court therefore held its own hearing, found both confessions involuntary, and ordered respondent discharged from custody unless retried. A divided panel of the Second Circuit affirmed.

The Court of Appeals held that the state court's opinion did not meet the requisites of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) which provides in relevant part:

[A] determination after a hearing on the merits of a factual issue, made by a State court of competent jurisdiction . . . evidenced by a written finding, written opinion, or other reliable and adequate written indicia, shall be presumed to be correct, unless the applicant shall establish or it shall otherwise appear . . . --

(1) that the merits of the factual dispute were not resolved in the State court hearing. . . .

Although it is true that the state trial court did not specifically articulate its credibility findings, it can scarcely be doubted from its written opinion that respondent's factual contentions were resolved against him.

Respondent's wife was killed by a blast from a sawed-off shotgun device which had been set to shoot through the back of their front car seat. His confessions indicated that, because of extreme jealousy, he rigged the device to go off when his wife pulled the car seat forward. For some reason it failed initially; so when he was seated with her in the car, he operated it by hand. At trial, he claimed his confessions were false, and testified that he was seated in the car with his wife and he noticed a lump on the floor behind the front seat. When he reached down to investigate, it shot her.

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At trial, in support of his theory of relentless questioning and police coercion, respondent presented evidence to the...

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