Frazier v. Cupp, 643

Decision Date22 April 1969
Docket NumberNo. 643,643
Citation89 S.Ct. 1420,394 U.S. 731,22 L.Ed.2d 684
PartiesMartin Rene FRAZIER, Petitioner, v. H. C. CUPP, Warden
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Howard M. Feuerstein, Portland, Or., for petitioner.

Arlen Specter, Philadelphia, Pa., for respondent.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was convicted in an Oregon state court of second-degree murder in connection with the September 22, 1964, slaying of one Russell Anton Marleau. After the Supreme Court of Oregon had affirmed his conviction, 245 Or. 4, 418 P.2d 841 (1966), petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. The District Court granted the writ, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, 388 F.2d 777 (1968). We granted certiorari to consider three contentions of error raised by petitioner. 393 U.S. 821, 89 S.Ct. 222, 21 L.Ed.2d 93 (1968). Although petitioner's case has been ably briefed and argued by appointed counsel, we find none of these allegations sufficient to warrant reversal.

I.

Petitioner's first argument centers on certain allegedly prejudicial remarks made during the prosecutor's opening statement. Petitioner had been indicted jointly with his cousin, Jerry Lee Rawls, who pleaded guilty to the same offense. Prior to petitioner's trial, petitioner's defense counsel told the prosecutor that Rawls would invoke his privilege against self-incrimination if he were called to the stand; defense counsel warned the prosecutor not to rely in his opening statement upon Rawls' expected testimon . The prosecutor replied that he would act on the basis of 'all of the information I have concerning (Rawls') testimony.' Before trial, he consulted with a police officer who had spoken to Rawls and with Rawls' probation officer; each indicated his belief that Rawls would testify. Similar information came, through a sheriff's report, from some of Rawls' close relatives. Because of these reports, the prosecutor concluded that Rawls would testify if asked to do so. The court below felt that the prosecutor also relied on the fact that Rawls had pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentence. This would give him reason, the court felt, to cooperate with the prosecutor.

In any case, after the trial began the prosecutor included in his opening statement a summary of the testimony he expected to receive from Rawls. The summary was not emphasized in any particular way; it took only a few minutes to recite and was sandwiched between a summary of petitioner's own confession and a description of the circumstantial evidence the State would introduce. At one point the prosecutor referred to a paper he was holding in his hands to refresh his memory about something Rawls had said. Although the State admitted in argument here that the jury might fairly have believed that the prosecutor was referring to Rawls' statement, he did not explicitly tell the jury that this paper was Rawls' confession, nor did he purport to read directly from it. A motion for a mistrial was made at the close of the opening statement, but it was denied. Later, the prosecutor called Rawls to the stand. Rawls informed the court that he intended to assert his privilege against self-incrimination in regard to every question concerning his activities on the morning of September 22, 1964. The matter was not further pursued, and Rawls was dismissed from the stand. His appearance could not have lasted more than two or three minutes. The motion for mistrial was renewed and once again denied.

Petitioner argues that this series of events placed the substance of Rawls' statement before the jury in a way that 'may well have been the equivalent in the jury's mind of testimony,' Douglas v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 415, 419, 85 S.Ct. 1074, 1077, 13 L.Ed.2d 934 (1965), and that, as in Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 128, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 1623, 20 L.Ed.2d 476 (1968), the statement 'added substantial, perhaps even critical, weight to the Government's case in a form not subject to cross-examination * * *.' In this way, petitioner claims he was denied his constitutional right of confrontation, guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. See Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 85 S.Ct. 1065, 13 L.Ed.2d 923 (1965). Although the judge did caution the jurors that they 'must not regard any statement made by counsel in your presence during the proceedings concerning the facts of this case as evidence,' petitioner contends that Bruton v. United States, supra, disposes of the contention that limiting instructions of this sort can be relied upon to cure the error which occurred. Although the question thus posed is not an easy one, we cannot agree with petitioner's conclusion.

First of all, it is clear that this case is quite different from either Douglas or Bruton. In Douglas, the prosecutor called the defendant's coconspirator to the stand and read his alleged confession to him; the coconspirator was required to assert his privilege against self-incrimination repeatedly as the prosecutor asked him to confirm or deny each statement. The Court found that this procedure placed powerfully incriminating evidence before the jury in a manner which effectively denied the right of cross-examination. Here, Rawls was on the stand for a very short time and only a paraphrase of the statement was placed before the jury. This was done not during the trial, while the person making the statement was on the stand, but in an opening statement. In addition, the jury was told that the opening statement should not be considered as evidence. Certainly the impact of the procedure used here was much less damaging than was the case in Douglas. And unlike the situation in Bruton, the jury was not being asked to perform the mental gymnastics of considering an incriminating statement against only one of two defendants in a joint trial. Moreover, unlike the situation in either Douglas or Bruton, Rawls' statement was not a vitally important part of the prosecution's case.

We believe that in these circumstances the limiting instructions given were sufficient to protect petitioner's constitutional rights.* As the Court said in Bruton, 391 U.S. at 135, 88 S.Ct. at 1627, 'Not every admission of inadmissible hearsay or other evidence can be considered to be reversible error unavoidable through limiting instructions; instances occur in almost every trial where inadmissible evidence creeps in, usually inadvertently.' See Hopt v. Utah, 120 U.S. 430, 438, 7 S.Ct. 614, 30 L.Ed. 708 (1887). It may be that some remarks included in an opening or closing statement could be so prejudicial that a finding of error, or even constitutional error, would be unavoidable. But here we have no more than an objective summary of evidence which the prosecutor reasonably expected to produce. Many things might happen during the course of the trial which would prevent the presentation of all the evidence described in advance. Certainly not every variance between the advance description and the actual presentation constitutes reversible error, when a proper limiting instruction has been given. Even if it is unreasonable to assume that a jury can disregard a coconspirator's statement when introduced against one of two joint defendants, it does not seem at all remarkable to assume that the jury will ordinarily be able to limit its consideration to the evidence introduced during the trial. At least where the anticipated, and unproduced, evidence is not touted to the jury as a crucial part of the prosecution's case, 'it is hard for us to imagine that the minds of the jurors would be so influenced by such incidental statements during this long trial that they would not appraise the evidence objectively and dispassionately.' United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 239, 60 S.Ct. 811, 852, 84 L.Ed. 1129 (1940).

The Court of Appeals seemed to feel that this aspect of the case turned on whether or not the prosecutor acted 'in a good faith expectation that Rawls would testify.' 388 F.2d, at 780—781. While we do not believe that the prosecutor's good faith, or lack of it, is controlling in determining whether a defendant has been deprived of the right of confrontation guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, we agree with the Court of Appeals' factual determination in this case. The evidence presented in the record is sufficient to support the Oregon Supreme Court's conclusion that 'the state could reasonably expect (Rewls) to testify in line with his previous statements.' 245 Or. at 9, 418 P.2d at 843. Accordingly, there is no need to decide whether the type of prosecutorial misconduct alleged to have occurred would have been sufficient to constitute reversible constitutional error. Cf. Miller v. Pate, 386 U.S. 1, 87 S.Ct. 785, 17 L.Ed.2d 690 (1967). Therefore, because we find neither prosecutorial misconduct nor a deprivation of the right of confrontation, we agree with the Court of Appeals that nothing which occurred during the prosecution's opening statement would warrant federal habeas relief.

II.

Petitioner's second argument concerns the admission into evidence of his own confession. The circumstances under which the confession was obtained can be summarized briefly. Petitioner was arrested about 4:15 p.m. on September 24, 1964. He was taken to headquarters where questioning began at about 5 p.m. The interrogation, which was...

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