Bruton v. United States, 705

Citation20 L.Ed.2d 476,88 S.Ct. 1620,391 U.S. 123
Decision Date20 May 1968
Docket NumberNo. 705,705
PartiesGeorge William BRUTON, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Daniel P. Reardon, Jr., St. Louis, Mo., for petitioner.

Solicitor General Erwin N. Griswold, for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question, last considered in Delli Paoli v. United States, 352 U.S. 232, 77 S.Ct. 294, 1 L.Ed.2d 278, whether the conviction of a defendant at a joint trial should be set aside although the jury was instructed that a codefendant's confession inculpating the defendant had to be disregarded in determining his guilt or innocence.

A joint trial of petitioner and one Evans in the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri resulted in the conviction of both by a jury on a federal charge of armed postal robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 2114. A postal inspector testified that Evans orally confessed to him that Evans and petitioner committed the armed robbery. The postal inspector obtained the oral confession, and another in which Evans admitted he had an accomplice whom he would not name, in the course of two interrogations of Evans at the city jail in St. Louis, Missouri, where Evans was held in custody on state criminal charges. Both petitioner and Evans appealed their convictions to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That court set aside Evans' conviction on the ground that his oral confessions to the postal inspector should not have been received in evidence against him. 375 F.2d 355, 361.1 However, the court, relying upon Delli Paoli, affirmed petitioner's conviction because the trial judge instructed the jury that although Evans' confession was competent evidence against Evans it was inadmissible hearsay against petitioner and therefore had to be disregarded in determining petitioner's guilt or innocence. 375 F.2d, at 361—363.2 We granted certiorari to reconsider Delli Paoli. 389 U.S. 818, 88 S.Ct. 126, 19 L.Ed.2d 70. The Solicitor General has since submitted a memorandum stating that 'in the light of the record in this particular case and in the interests of justice, the judgment below should be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial.' The Solicitor General states that this disposition is urged in part because '(h)ere it has been determined that the confession was wrongly admitted against (Evans) and his conviction has been reversed, leading to a new trial at which he was acquitted. To argue, in this situation, that (petitioner's) conviction should nevertheless stand may be to place too great a strain upon the (Delli Paoli) rule—at least, where, as here the other evidence against (petitioner) is not strong.' We have concluded, however, that Delli Paoli should be overruled. We hold that, because of the substantial risk that the jury, despite instructions to the contrary, looked to the incriminating extrajudicial statements in determining petitioner's guilt, admission of Evans' confession in this joint trial violated petitioner's right of cross-examination secured by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. We therefore overrule Delli Paoli and reverse.

The basic premise of Delli Paoli was that it is 'reasonably possible for the jury to follow' sufficiently clear instructions to disregard the confessor's extrajudicial statement that his codefendant participated with him in committing the crime. 352 U.S., at 239, 77 S.Ct., at 299. If it were true that the jury disregarded the reference to the codefendant, no question would arise under the Confrontation Clause, because by hypothesis the case is treated as if the confessor made no statement inculpating the nonconfessor. But since Delli Paoli was decided this Court has effectively repudiated its basic premise. Before discussing this, we pause to observe that in Pointer v. State of Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 85 S.Ct. 1065, 13 L.Ed.2d 923, we confirmed 'that the right of cross-examination is included in the right of an accused in a criminal case to confront the witnesses against him' secured by the Sixth Amendment, id., at 404, 85 S.Ct., at 1068; 'a major reason underlying the constitutional confrontation rule is to give a defendant charged with crime an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him.' Id., at 406—407, 85 S.Ct., at 1069.

We applied Pointer in Douglas v. State of Alabama, 380 U.S. 415, 85 S.Ct. 1074, 13 L.Ed.2d 934, in circumstances analogous to those in the present case. There two persons, Loyd and Douglas, accused of assault with intent to murder, were tried separately. Loyd was tried first and found guilty. At Douglas' trial the State called Loyd as a witness against him. An appeal was pending from Loyd's conviction and Loyd invoked the privilege against self-incrimination and refused to answer any questions. The prosecution was permitted to treat Loyd as a hostile witness. Under the guise of refreshing Loyd's recollection the prosecutor questioned Loyd by asking him to confirm or deny statements read by the prosecutor from a document purported to be Loyd's confession. These statements inculpated Douglas in the crime. We held that Douglas' inability to cross-examine Loyd denied Douglas 'the right of cross-examination secured by the Confrontation Clause.' 380 U.S., at 419, 85 S.Ct. at 1077. We noted that 'effective confrontation of Loyd was possible only if Loyd affirmed the statement as his. However, Loyd did not do so, but relied on his privilege to refuse to answer.' Id., at 420, 85 S.Ct., at 1077. The risk of prejudice in petitioner's case was even more serious than in Douglas. In Douglas we said, 'Although the Solicitor's reading of Loyd's alleged statement, and Loyd's refusals to answer, were not technically testimony, the Solicitor's reading may well have been the equivalent in the jury's mind of testimony that Loyd in fact made the statement; and Loyd's reliance upon the privilege created a situation in which the jury might improperly infer both that the statement had been made and that it was true.' Id., at 419, 85 S.Ct., at 1077. Here Evans' oral confessions were in fact testified to, and were therefore actually in evidence. That testimony was legitimate evidence against Evans and to that extent was properly before the jury during its deliberations. Even greater, then, was the likelihood that the jury would believe Evans made the statements and that they were true—not just the self-incriminating portions but those implicating petitioner as well. Plainly, the introduction of Evans' confession added substantial, perhaps even critical, weight to the Government's case in a form not subject to cross-examination, since Evans did not take the stand. Petitioner thus was denied his constitutional right of confrontation.

Delli Paoli assumed that this encroachment on the right to confrontation could be avoided by the instruction to the jury to disregard the inadmissible hearsay evidence.3 But, as we have said, that assumption has since been effectively repudiated. True, the repudiation was not in the context of the admission of a confession inculpating a codefendant but in the context of a New York rule which submitted to the jury the question of the voluntariness of the confession itself. Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908. Nonetheless the message of Jackson for Delli Paoli was clear. We there held that a defendant is constitutionally entitled at least to have the trial judge first determine whether a confession was made volun- trarily before submitting it to the jury for an assessment of its credibility. More specifically, we expressly rejected the proposition that a jury, when determining the confessor's guilt, could be relied on to ignore his confession of guilt should it find the confession involuntary. Id., at 388—389, 84 S.Ct., at 1786—1788. Significantly, we supported that conclusion in part by reliance upon the dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Frankfurter for the four Justices who dissented in Delli Paoli. Id., at 388, n. 15, 84 S.Ct., at 1787.

That dissent challenged the basic premise of Delli Paoli that a properly instructed jury would ignore the confessor's inculpation of the nonconfessor in determining the latter's guilt. 'The fact of the matter is that too often such admonition against misuse is intrinsically ineffective in that the effect of such a nonadmissible declaration cannot be wiped from the brains of the jurors. The admonition therefore becomes a futile collocation of words and fails of its purpose as a legal protection to defendants against whom such a declaration should not tell.' 352 U.S., at 247, 77 S.Ct., at 302. The dissent went on to say, as quoted in the cited note in Jackson, 'The Government should not have the windfall of having the jury be influenced by evidence against a defendant which, as a matter of law, they should not consider but which they cannot put out of their minds.' Id., at 248, 77 S.Ct., at 303. To the same effect, and also cited in the Jackson note, is the statement of Mr. Justice Jackson in his concurring opinion in Krulewitch v. United States, 336 U.S. 440, 453, 69 S.Ct. 716, 723, 93 L.Ed. 790: 'The naive assumption that prejudicial effects can be overcome by instructions to the jury * * * all practicing lawyers know to be unmitigated fiction. * * *'4 The significance of Jackson for Delli Paoli was suggested by Chief Justice Traynor in People v. Aranda, 63 Cal.2d 518, 528—529, 47 Cal.Rptr. 353, 358—359, 407 P.2d 265, 271—272:

'Although Jackson was directly concerned with obviating any risk that a jury might rely on an unconstitutionally obtained confession in determining the defendant's guilt, its logic extends to obviating the risks that the jury may rely on any inadmissible statements. If it is a denial of due process to rely on a jury's presumed ability to disregard an involuntary confession, it may also be a denial of due process to rely on a jury's presumed ability to disregard a codefendant's...

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