Harrison v. United States, No. 876

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEWART
Citation20 L.Ed.2d 1047,392 U.S. 219,88 S.Ct. 2008
Decision Date10 June 1968
Docket NumberNo. 876
PartiesEddie M. HARRISON, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES

392 U.S. 219
88 S.Ct. 2008
20 L.Ed.2d 1047
Eddie M. HARRISON, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 876.
Argued April 4, 1968.
Decided June 10, 1968.

Page 220

Alfred V. J. Prather, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Francis X. Beytagh, Jr., Cleveland, Ohio, for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was brought to trial before a jury in the District of Columbia upon a charge of felony murder.1 At that trial the prosecution introduced three confessions allegedly made by the petitioner while he was in the custody of the police. After these confessions had been admitted in evidence, the petitioner took the witness stand and testified to his own version of the events leading to the victim's death. The jury found the petitioner guilty, but the Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, holding that the petitioner's confessions had been illegally obtained and were therefore inadmissible in evidence against him. Harrison v. United States, 123 U.S.App.D.C. 230, 238, 359 F.2d 214, 222; on rehearing en banc, 123 U.S.App.D.C. 239, 359 F.2d 223.2

Page 221

The substance of the confessions was that the petitioner and two others, armed with a shotgun, had gone to the victim's house intending to rob him, and that the victim had been killed while resisting their entry into his home. In his testimony at trial the petitioner said that he and his companions had gone to the victim's home hoping to pawn the shotgun, and that the victim was accidently killed while the petitioner was presenting the gun to him for inspection.

Upon remand, the case again came to trial before a jury. This time the prosecutor did not, of course, offer the alleged confessions in evidence. But he did read to the jury the petitioner's testimony at the prior trial—testimony which placed the petitioner, shotgun in hand, at the scene of the killing. The testimony was read over the objection of defense counsel, who argued that the petitioner had been induced to testify at the former trial only because of the introduction against him of the inadmissible confessions. The petitioner was again convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.3 We granted certiorari to decide whether the petitioner's trial testimony was the inadmissible fruit of the illegally procured confessions.4

Page 222

In this case we need not and do not question the general evidentiary rule that a defendant's testimony at a former trial is admissible in evidence against him in later proceedings.5 A defendant who chooses to testify waives his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination with respect to the testimony he gives, and that waiver is no less effective or complete because the defendant may have been motivated to take the witness stand in the first place only by reason of the strength of the lawful evidence adduced against him.

Here, however, the petitioner testified only after the Government had illegally introduced into evidence three confessions, all wrongfully obtained, 6 and the same principle that prohibits the use of confessions so procured also prohibits the use of any testimony impelled thereby—the fruit of the poisonous tree, to invoke a time-worn metaphor. For the 'essence of a provision forbidding the acquisition of evidence in a certain way is that not merely evidence so acquired shall not be used before the Court but that it shall not be used at all.' Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 392, 40 S.Ct. 182, 183, 64 L.Ed. 319.7

Page 223

In concluding that the petitioner's prior testimony could be used against him without regard to the confessions that had been introduced in evidence before he testified, the Court of Appeals relied on the fact that the petitioner had 'made a conscious tactical decision to seek acquittal by taking the stand after (his) in-custody statements had been let in * * *.'8 But that observation is beside the point. The question is not whether the petitioner made a knowing decision to testify, but why. If he did so in order to overcome the impact of confessions illegally obtained and hence improperly introduced, then his testimony was tainted by the same illegality that rendered the confessions themselves inadmissible.9 As Justice Tobriner wrote for the Supreme Court of California,

'If the improper use of (a) defendant's extrajudicial confession impelled his testimonial admission of guilt, * * * we could not, in order to shield

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the resulting conviction from reversal, separate what he told the jury on the witness stand from what he confessed to the police during interrogation.'10

The remaining question is whether the petitioner's trial testimony was in fact impelled by the prosecution's wrongful use of his illegally obtained confessions. It is, of course, difficult to unravel the many considerations that might have led the petitioner to take the witness stand at his former trial. But, having illegally placed his confessions before the jury, the Government can hardly demand a demonstration by the petitioner that he would not have testified as he did if his inadmissible confessions had not been used. 'The springs of conduct are subtle and varied,' Mr. Justice Cardozo once observed. 'One who meddles with them must not insist upon too nice a measure of proof that the spring which he released was effective to the exclusion of all

Page 225

others.'11 Having 'released the spring' by using the petitioner's unlawfully obtained confessions against him, the Government must show that its illegal action did not induce his testimony.12

No such showing has been made here. In his opening statement to the jury, defense counsel announced that the petitioner would not testify in his own behalf. Only after his confessions had been admitted in evidence did he take the stand. It thus appears that, but for the use of his confessions, the petitioner might not have testified at all.13 But even if the petitioner would have decided to testify whether or not his confessions had been used, it does not follow that he would have admitted being at the scene of the crime and holding the gun when the fatal shot was fired. On the contrary, the more natural inference is that no testimonial admission so damaging would have been made if the prosecutor had not already

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spread the petitioner's confessions before the jury.14 That is an inference the Government has not dispelled.

It has not been demonstrated, therefore, that the petitioner's testimony was obtained 'by means sufficiently distinguishable' from the underlying illegality 'to be purged of the primary taint.' Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488, 83 S.Ct. 407, 417, 9 L.Ed.2d 441. Accordingly, the judgment must be reversed.

Reversed.

Mr. Justice BLACK, dissenting.

It seems to me that the Court in this case carries the Court-made doctrine of excluding evidence that is 'fruit of the poisonous tree' to a wholly illogical and completely unreasonable extent. For this and many of the reasons suggested by my Brother WHITE'S dissent, I agree that holdings like this make it far more difficult to protect society 'against those who have made it impossible to live today in safety.' I would affirm this conviction.

Mr. Justice HARLAN, dissenting.

Like my Brother BLACK and my Brother WHITE, I am unable to understand why the Court reverses this petitioner's conviction. There is no suggestion that the testimony in question, given on the stand with the

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advice of counsel, was somehow unreliable. Nor, as the opinion of Mr. Justice WHITE amply demonstrates, is there any plausible argument that a rule excluding such evidence from use at a later trial adds an ounce of deterrence against police violation of the Mallory rule.

I do not doubt that 'voluntariness' is not always a purely subjective question as to the defendant's state of mind; it may involve an objective analysis of the fairness of the situation in which government agents placed him. Nor would I rule out the possibility that a direct product of unlawful official activity might properly be excludable as a fruit of that activity—even where the product is so unforeseeable that a deterrent rationale for exclusion will not suffice—on the ground that the Government should not play an ignoble part.

But these concepts do not reach this case. Here, apparently in all good faith, the Government offered at one trial an out-of-court confession by petitioner. It was objected to on the ground that it had been obtained in violation of the Mallory rule. That objection was overruled, and the defense had to decide how to proceed. While defense counsel may have believed he had good grounds for reversal on appeal (as the Court of Appeals later held he did) he also had to present a defense in an effort to persuade the jury to acquit. That defense had of course to be structured to meet the Government's case as it stood—including but not limited to the admitted confession—and counsel decided to put his client on the stand.*

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The situation was one that criminal and civil defendants face all the time: believing that error has been committed that will result in reversal on appeal, they must nevertheless present a defense, and in doing so may help the other side on retrial. The situation here is no different in principle from the sacrifice of surprise, or the conveyance of important leads to the other side, that may occur because a trial continues even after error has been committed. It is a price that is paid for having a system of justice that insists, generally upon full trials before appellate review of points of law. It is a problem that can be avoided, within our system, only by doing what is done here, namely, reaching the wrong result as between the litigants. For me this is not acceptable doctrine.

Mr. Justice WHITE, dissenting.

This case and others like it would be more comprehensible if they purported to make procedures for trying...

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635 practice notes
  • Lujan v. Garcia, Nos. 10–55637
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 29, 2013
    ...The Court of Appeal was not presented with, nor did it consider, the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219, 88 S.Ct. 2008, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Mr. Lujan petitioned for federal habeas corpus relief from the convicti......
  • Pillsbury Company v. Conboy, No. 81-825
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 11, 1983
    ...of free will to purge the primary taint of the unlawful invasion." 371 U.S., at 486, 83 S.Ct., at 416. In Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219, 222-224, 88 S.Ct. 2008, 2010-2011, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968), the Court applied a similar standard to statements following an illegally obtain......
  • United States v. Schipani, No. 63 CR 237.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • July 26, 1968
    ...States, 120 U.S.App.D.C. 160, 344 F.2d 545 (1965); United States v. Tane, 329 F.2d 848 (2d Cir. 1964); cf. Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219, 224, 88 S. Ct. 2008, 2011, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968) (question whether "petitioner's trial testimony was * * * impelled by * * * wrongful use......
  • Morales v. United States, No. 18-CF-734
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • April 8, 2021
    ...from the harm analysis. Smith v. United States , 529 A.2d 312, 318 (D.C. 1987) (quoting 248 A.3d 184 Harrison v. United States , 392 U.S. 219, 223, 88 S.Ct. 2008, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968) ).24 That is to say we should not blind ourselves to the effects that constitutional violations have on t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
635 cases
  • Lujan v. Garcia, Nos. 10–55637
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 29, 2013
    ...The Court of Appeal was not presented with, nor did it consider, the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219, 88 S.Ct. 2008, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Mr. Lujan petitioned for federal habeas corpus relief from the convicti......
  • Pillsbury Company v. Conboy, No. 81-825
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 11, 1983
    ...of free will to purge the primary taint of the unlawful invasion." 371 U.S., at 486, 83 S.Ct., at 416. In Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219, 222-224, 88 S.Ct. 2008, 2010-2011, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968), the Court applied a similar standard to statements following an illegally obtain......
  • United States v. Schipani, No. 63 CR 237.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • July 26, 1968
    ...States, 120 U.S.App.D.C. 160, 344 F.2d 545 (1965); United States v. Tane, 329 F.2d 848 (2d Cir. 1964); cf. Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219, 224, 88 S. Ct. 2008, 2011, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968) (question whether "petitioner's trial testimony was * * * impelled by * * * wrongful use......
  • Morales v. United States, No. 18-CF-734
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • April 8, 2021
    ...from the harm analysis. Smith v. United States , 529 A.2d 312, 318 (D.C. 1987) (quoting 248 A.3d 184 Harrison v. United States , 392 U.S. 219, 223, 88 S.Ct. 2008, 20 L.Ed.2d 1047 (1968) ).24 That is to say we should not blind ourselves to the effects that constitutional violations have on t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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