Davis v. State of North Carolina, No. 815

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK; CLARK
PartiesElmer DAVIS, Jr., Petitioner, v. STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
Docket NumberNo. 815
Decision Date20 June 1966

384 U.S. 737
86 S.Ct. 1761
16 L.Ed.2d 895
Elmer DAVIS, Jr., Petitioner,

v.

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA.

No. 815.
Argued April 28, 1966.
Decided June 20, 1966.

Page 738

Charles V. Bell, Charlotte, N.C., for petitioner.

James F. Bullock, Varina, N.C., for respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Mr. Chief Justice WARREN, announced by Mr. Justice BRENNAN.

Petitioner, Elmer Davis, Jr., was tried before a jury in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on a charge of rape-murder. At trial, a written confession and testimony as to an oral confession were offered in evidence. Defense counsel objected on the ground that the confessions were involuntarily given. The trial judge heard testimony on this issue, ruled that the confessions were made voluntarily, and permitted them to be introduced in evidence. The jury returned a verdict of guilty without a recommendation for life imprisonment, and Davis was sentenced to death.

The conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, 253 N.C. 86, 116 S.E.2d 365, and this Court denied certiorari. 365 U.S. 855, 81 S.Ct. 816, 5 L.Ed.2d 819. Davis then sought a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The writ was denied without an evidentiary hearing on the basis of the state court record. 196 F.Supp. 488.

Page 739

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the voluntariness of Davis' confessions. 310 F.2d 904. A hearing was held in the District Court, following which the District Judge again held that the confessions were voluntary. 221 F.Supp. 494. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, after argument and then resubmission en banc, affirmed with two judges dissenting. 339 F.2d 770. We granted certiorari. 382 U.S. 953, 86 S.Ct. 439, 15 L.Ed.2d 358.

We are not called upon in this proceeding to pass on the guilt or innocence of the petitioner of the atrocious crime that was committed. Nor are we called upon to determine whether the confessions obtained are true or false. Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 81 S.Ct. 735, 5 L.Ed.2d 760 (1961). The sole issue presented for review is whether the confessions were voluntarily given or were the result of overbearing by police authorities. Upon thorough review of the record, we have concluded that the confessions were not made freely and voluntarily but rather that Davis' will was overborne by the sustained pressures upon him. Therefore, the confessions are constitutionally inadmissible and the judgment of the court below must be reversed.

Had the trial in this case before us come after our decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, we would reverse summarily. Davis was taken into custody by Charlotte police and interrogated repeatedly over a period of 16 days. There is no indication in the record that police advised him of any of his rights until after he had confessed orally on the 16th day.1 This would

Page 740

be clearly improper under Miranda. Id., 384 U.S. at 478—479, 492, 86 S.Ct. at 1630, 1637. Similarly, no waiver of rights could be inferred from this record since it shows only that Davis was repeatedly interrogated and that he denied the alleged offense prior to the time he finally confessed. Id., at 476, 499, 86 S.Ct. at 1629, 1640.

We have also held today, in Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719, 86 S.Ct. 1772, 16 L.Ed.2d 882, that our decision in Miranda, delineating procedures to safeguard the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination during incustody interrogation is to be applied prospectively only. Thus the present case may not be reversed solely on the ground that warnings were not given and waiver not shown. As we pointed out in Johnson, however, the nonretroactivity of the decision in Miranda does not affect the duty of courts to consider claims that a statement was taken under circumstances which violate the standards of voluntariness which had begun to evolve long prior to our decisions in Miranda and Escobedo v. State of Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 84 S.Ct. 1758, 12 L.Ed.2d 977 (1964). This Court has undertaken to review the voluntariness of statements obtained by police in state cases since Brown v. State of Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 56 S.Ct. 461, 80 L.Ed. 682 (1936). The standard of voluntariness which has evolved in state cases under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is the same general standard which applied in federal prosecutions—a standard grounded in the policies of the privilege against self-incrimination. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 6—8, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 1492—1493, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964).

The review of voluntariness in cases in which the trial was held prior to our decisions in Escobedo and Miranda is not limited in any manner by these decisions. On the contrary, that a defendant was not advised of his right to remain silent or of his right respecting counsel at the outset of interrogation, as is now required by Miranda, is a significant factor in considering the voluntariness of statements later made. This factor has been recognized in several of our prior decisions

Page 741

dealing with standards of voluntariness. Haynes v. State of Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 510—511, 83 S.Ct. 1336, 1341—1342, 10 L.Ed.2d 513 (1963); Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 610, 81 S.Ct. 1860, 1883, 6 L.Ed.2d 1037 (1961); Turner v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 338 U.S. 62, 64, 69 S.Ct. 1352, 93 L.Ed. 1810 (1949). See also Gallegos v. State of Colorado, 370 U.S. 49, 54, 55, 82 S.Ct. 1209, 1212, 1213, 8 L.Ed.2d 325 (1962). Thus, the fact that Davis was never effectively advised of his rights gives added weight to the other circumstances described below which made his confessions involuntary.

As is almost invariably so in cases involving confessions obtained through unobserved police interrogation, there is a conflict in the testimony as to the events surrounding the interrogations. Davis alleged that he was beaten, threatened, and cursed by police and that he was told he would get a hot bath and something to eat as soon as he signed a statement. This was flatly denied by each officer who testified.2 Davis further stated that he had repeatedly asked for a lawyer and that police refused to allow him to obtain one. This was also denied. Davis' sister testified at the habeas corpus hearing that she twice came to the police station and asked to see him, but that each time police officers told her Davis was not having visitors. Police officers testified that, on the contrary, upon learning of Davis' desire to see his sister, they went to her home to tell her Davis wanted to see her, but she informed them she was busy with her children. These factual allegations were resolved against Davis by the District Court and we need not review these specific findings here.

It is our duty in this case, however, as in all of our prior cases dealing with the question whether a confession was involuntarily given, to examine the entire record

Page 742

and make an independent determination of the ultimate issue of voluntariness. E.g., Haynes v. State of Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 515—516, 83 S.Ct. 1336, 1344—1345, 10 L.Ed.2d 513 (1963); Blackburn v. State of Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 205, 80 S.Ct. 274, 279, 4 L.Ed.2d 242 (1960); Ashcraft v. State of Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 147—148, 64 S.Ct. 921, 923, 88 L.Ed. 1192 (1944). Wholly apart from the disputed facts, a statement of the case from facts established in the record, in our view, leads plainly to the conclusion that the confessions were the product of a will overborne.

Elmer Davis is an impoverished Negro with a third or fourth grade education. His level of intelligence is such that it prompted the comment by the court below, even while deciding against him on his claim of involuntariness, that there is a moral question whether a person of Davis' mentality should be executed. Police first came in contact with Davis while he was a child when his mother murdered his father, and thereafter knew him through his long criminal record, beginning with a prison term he served at the age of 15 or 16.

In September 1959, Davis escaped from a state prison camp near Asheville, North Carolina, where he was serving sentences of 17 to 25 years. On September 20, 1959, Mrs. Foy Belle Cooper was raped and murdered in the Elmwood Cemetery in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina. On September 21, police in a neighboring county arrested Davis in Belmont, 12 miles from Charlotte. He was wearing civilian clothes and had in his possession women's undergarments and a billfold with identification papers of one Bishel Buren Hayes. Hayes testified at trial that his billfold and shoes had been taken from him while he lay in a drunken sleep near the Elmwood Cemetery on September 20.

Charlotte police learned of Davis' arrest and contacted the warden of the state prison to get permission to take Davis into their custody in connection with the Cooper murder and other felonies. Having obtained permission,

Page 743

they took Davis from Belmont authorities and brought him to the detective headquarters in Charlotte. From the testimony of the officers, it is beyond dispute that the reason for securing Davis was their suspicion that he had committed the murder.3

The second and third floors of the detective headquarters building contain lockup cells used for detention overnight and occasionally for slightly longer periods. It has no kitchen facilities for preparing meals. The cell in which Davis was placed measures 6 by 10 feet and contains a solid steel bunk with mattress, a drinking fountain, and a commode. It is located on the inside of the building with no view of daylight. It is ventilated by two exhaust fans located in the ceiling of the top floor of the building. Despite the fact that a county jail equipped and used...

To continue reading

Request your trial
814 practice notes
  • Miller v. Fenton, No. 83-5530
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • September 28, 1984
    ...and giving of Miranda warnings were simply factors for consideration in the determination of voluntariness. See Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 740-41, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 1763-64, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 The theory that Miranda worked a doctrinal upheaval in Supreme Court jurisprudence may have b......
  • State v. Aversa
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 3, 1985
    ...v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 476, 86 S.Ct. at 1629; there was no proof "that the defendant lacked education; Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 742, 86 S.Ct. 1761 [1764], 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966); that the defendant exhibited weakness of will or mind; Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191, 196-......
  • Rosado v. Civiletti, Nos. 980-982
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 23, 1980
    ...view of our duty to make an independent determination of the voluntariness of petitioners' consents to transfer, Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 741-42, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 1764, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966), we shall first explore the history of petitioners' confinement in Mexico and the United......
  • U.S. v. Brown, No. 76-1576
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • August 16, 1977
    ...are required to make an independent determination on the ultimate issue of the voluntariness of a confession. Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 741-42, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966). See LaVallee v. Delle Rose, 410 U.S. 690, 93 S.Ct. 1203, 35 L.Ed.2d 637 The District Court found......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
811 cases
  • Miller v. Fenton, No. 83-5530
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • September 28, 1984
    ...and giving of Miranda warnings were simply factors for consideration in the determination of voluntariness. See Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 740-41, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 1763-64, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 The theory that Miranda worked a doctrinal upheaval in Supreme Court jurisprudence may have b......
  • State v. Aversa
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 3, 1985
    ...v. Arizona, supra, 384 U.S. at 476, 86 S.Ct. at 1629; there was no proof "that the defendant lacked education; Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 742, 86 S.Ct. 1761 [1764], 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966); that the defendant exhibited weakness of will or mind; Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191, 196-......
  • Rosado v. Civiletti, Nos. 980-982
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 23, 1980
    ...view of our duty to make an independent determination of the voluntariness of petitioners' consents to transfer, Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 741-42, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 1764, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966), we shall first explore the history of petitioners' confinement in Mexico and the United......
  • U.S. v. Brown, No. 76-1576
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • August 16, 1977
    ...are required to make an independent determination on the ultimate issue of the voluntariness of a confession. Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 741-42, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966). See LaVallee v. Delle Rose, 410 U.S. 690, 93 S.Ct. 1203, 35 L.Ed.2d 637 The District Court found......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Law Enforcement Case Law
    • United States
    • Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 30-2, September 2005
    • September 1, 2005
    ...1062 (9th Cir. 01-23-03).Colorado v. Bertine, 379 U.S. 367 (1987).Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971).Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737 (1966).Davis v. U.S., 512 U.S. 452 (1994).Doran v. Eckold, 362 F.3d 1047 (8th Cir. 04-06-04).Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981).Ferguso......
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1965-1966
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 19-4, December 1966
    • December 1, 1966
    ...(P. 731.) Another voluntary confession case decided by the Court this term was that of Daais v. State of North Carolina ( 384 U.S. 73’7; 86 S.Ct. 1761 ) . Elmer Davis, Jr.,was an impoverished Negro with a third- or fourth-grade education who had beenfound guilty of rape-murder. Part of the ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT