Jackson v. Denno, 62

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation12 L.Ed.2d 908,378 U.S. 368,84 S.Ct. 1774,1 A.L.R.3d 1205
Docket NumberNo. 62,62
PartiesNathan JACKSON, Petitioner, v. Wilfred DENNO, Warden
Decision Date22 June 1964

Daniel G. Collins, New York City, for petitioner.

William I. Siegel, Brooklyn, for respondent.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, Jackson, has filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Federal District Court asserting that his conviction for murder in the New York courts is invalid because it was founded upon a confession not properly determined to be voluntary. The writ was denied, 206 F.Supp. 759 (D.C.S.D.N.Y.), the Court of Appeals affirmed, 309 F.2d 573 (C.A.2d Cir.), and we granted certiorari to consider fundamental questions about the constitutionality of the New York procedure governing the admissibility of a confession alleged to be involuntary.1 371 U.S. 967, 83 S.Ct. 553, 9 L.Ed.2d 538.


On June 14, 1960, at about 1 a.m., petitioner, Jackson, and Nora Elliott entered a Brooklyn hotel where Miss Elliott registered for both of them. After telling Miss Elliott to leave, which she did, Jackson drew a gun and took money from the room clerk. He ordered the clerk and several other people into an upstairs room and left the hotel, only to encounter Miss Elliott and later a policeman on the street. A struggle with the latter followed, in the course of which both men drew guns. The policeman was fatally wounded and petitioner was shot twice in the body. He managed to hail a cab, however, which took him to the hospital.

A detective questioned Jackson at about 2 a.m., soon after his arrival at the hospital. Jackson, when asked for his name, said, 'Nathan Jackson, I shot the colored cop. I got the drop on him.' He also admitted the robbery at the hotel. According to the detective, Jackson was in 'strong' condition despite his wounds.

Jackson was given 50 milligrams of demerol and 1/50 of a grain of scopolamine at 3:55 a.m. Immediately thereafter an Assistant District Attorney, in the presence of police officers and hospital personnel, questioned Jackson, the interrogation being recorded by a stenographer. Jackson, who had been shot in the liver and lung, had by this time lost about 500 cc. of blood. Jackson again admitted the robbery in the hotel, and then said, 'Look, I can't go on.' But in response to further questions he admitted shooting the policeman and having fired the first shot.2 he interview was completed at 4 a.m. An operation upon petitioner was begun at 5 a.m. and completed at 8 a.m.

Jackson and Miss Elliott were indicted for murder in the first degree and were tried together. The statements made by Jackson, both at 2 and 3:55 a.m., were introduced in evidence without objection by Jackson's counsel. Jackson took the stand in his own defense. His account of the robbery and of the shooting of the policeman differed in some important respects from his confession. According to Jackson's testimony, there was a substantial interval of time between his leaving the hotel and the shooting, and the policeman attempted to draw his gun first and fired the first shot. As to the questioning at the hospital, Jackson recalled that he was in pain and gasping for breath at the time and was refused water and told he would not be let alone until the police had the answers they wanted. He knew that he had been interrogated but could remember neither the questions nor the answers.

To counter Jackson's suggestion that he had been pressured into answering questions, the State offered the testimony of the attending physician and of several other persons. They agreed that Jackson was refused water, but because of the impending operation rather than his refusal to answer questions. On cross-examination of the doctor, Jackson's counsel, with the help of the hospital records, elicited the fact that demerol and scopolamine were administered to Jackson immediately before his interrogation. But any effect of these drugs on Jackson during the interrogation was denied.3 Although Jackson's counsel did not specifically object to the admission of the confession initially, the trial court indicated its awareness that Jackson's counsel was questioning the circumstances under which Jackson was interrogated. 4

In his closing argument, Jackson's counsel did not ask for an acquittal but for a verdict of second-degree murder or manslaughter. Counsel's main effort was to negative the premeditation and intent necessary to first-degree murder and to separate the robbery felony from the killing. He made much of the testimony tending to show a substantial interval between leaving the hotel and the beginning of the struggle with the policeman. The details of that struggle and the testimony indicating the policeman fired the first shot were also stressed.

Consistent with the New York practice where a question has been raised about the voluntariness of a confession, the trial court submitted that issue to the jury along with the other issues in the case. The jury was told that if it found the confession involuntary, it was to disregard it entirely, and determine guilt or innocence solely from the other evidence in the case; alternatively, if it found the confession voluntary, it was to determine its truth or reliability and afford it weight accordingly.5

The jury found Jackson guilty of murder in the first degree, Miss Elliott of manslaughter in the first degree. Jackson was sentenced to death, Miss Elliott to a prison term. Jackson's conviction was affirmed by the New York Court of Appeals, People v. Jackson, 10 N.Y.2d 780, 219 N.Y.S.2d 621, 177 N.E.2d 59, its remittitur being amended to show that it had necessarily passed upon the voluntariness of the confession and had found that Jackson's constitutional rights had not been violated. 10 N.Y.2d 816, 221 N.Y.S.2d 521, 178 N.E.2d 234. Certiorari was denied here. 368 U.S. 949, 82 S.Ct. 390, 7 L.Ed.2d 344. Jackson then filed a petition for habeas corpus claiming that the New York procedure for determining the voluntariness of a confession was unconstitutional and that in any event his confession was involuntary. After hearing argument and examining the state court record the District Court denied the petition without holding an evidentiary hearing. Indicating that it is the trier of fact who must determine the truth of the testimony of prisoner and official alike and resolve conflicts in the testimony, the court found 'no clear and conclusive proof that these statements were extorted from him, or that they were given involuntarily.' Nor was any constitutional infirmity found in the New York procedure. 206 F.Supp. 759 (D.C.S.D.N.Y.). The Court of Appeals, after noting the conflicting testimony concerning the coercion issue and apparently accepting the State's version of the facts, affirmed the conviction. 309 F.2d 573 (C.A.2d Cir.).


It is now axiomatic that a defendant in a criminal case is deprived of due process of law if his conviction is founded, in whole or in part, upon an involuntary confession, without regard for the truth or falsity of the confession, Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 81 S.Ct. 735, 5 L.Ed.2d 760, and even though there is ample evidence aside from the confession to support the conviction. Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 65 S.Ct. 781, 89 L.Ed. 1029; Stroble v. California, 343 U.S. 181, 72 S.Ct. 599, 96 L.Ed. 872; Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U.S. 560, 78 S.Ct. 844, 2 L.Ed.2d 975. Equally clear is the defendant's constitutional right at some stage in the proceedings to object to the use of the confession and to have a fair hearing and a reliable determination on the issue of voluntariness, a determination uninfluenced by the truth or falsity of the confession. Rogers v. Richmond, supra. In our view, the New York procedure employed in this case did not afford a reliable determination of the voluntariness of the confession offered in evidence at the trial, did not adequately protect Jackson's right to be free of a conviction based upon a coerced confession and therefore cannot withstand constitutional attack under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We therefore reverse the judgment below denying the writ of habeas corpus.


Under the New York rule, the trial judge must make a preliminary determination regarding a confession offered by the prosecution and exclude it if in no circumstances could the confession be deemed voluntary.6 But if the evidence presents a fair question as to its voluntariness, as where certain facts bearing on the issue are in dispute or where reasonable men could differ over the inferences to be drawn from undisputed facts, the judge 'must receive the confession and leave to the jury, under proper instructions, the ultimate determination of its voluntary cha acter and also its truthfulness.'7 Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 172, 73 S.Ct. 1077, 1086, 97 L.Ed. 1522. If an issue of coercion is presented, the judge may not resolve conflicting evidence or arrive at his independent appraisal of the voluntariness of the confession, one way or the other. These matters he must leave to the jury.

This procedure has a significant impact upon the defendant's Fourteenth Amendment rights. In jurisdictions following the orthodox rule, under which the judge himself solely and finally determines the voluntariness of the confession, or those following the Massachusetts procedure,8 under which the jury passes on voluntariness only after the judge has fully and independently resolved the issue against the accused,9 the judge's con- clusions are clearly evident from the record since he either admits the confession into evidence if it is voluntary or rejects it if involuntary. Moreover, his findings upon disputed issues of fact are expressly stated or may be ascertainable from the record. In contrast, the New York jury returns only a general verdict upon the ultimate question of guilt or innocence....

To continue reading

Request your trial
5238 cases
  • Lewis v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 1 Junio 2021
    ...and the confession he gave during his April 25, 2011 custodial interview. He also requested a hearing under Jackson v. Denno , 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964), to determine whether the confession was given without the "slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury.......
  • Roller v. McKellar, Civ. A. No. 3:88-288-15J.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 18 Abril 1989
    ...court in this case held a hearing to determine the voluntariness of petitioner's inculpatory statements. See Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964). During the in camera hearing, Officer Sales testified that petitioner was given his Miranda warnings immediately......
  • Hyman v. Aiken, Civ. A. No. 84-1763-1J.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 31 Marzo 1985
    ...(1968); Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 351-352, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 1516-1517, 16 L.Ed.2d 600 (1966); Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 389-391, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 1787-1789, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964); Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U.S. 560, 567-568, 78 S.Ct. 844, 849-850, 2 L.Ed.2d 975 (1956); In re Murchis......
  • Terry, In re, Cr. 13949
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 24 Mayo 1971
    ......361, 465 P.2d 257; In re Shipp, 62 Cal.2d 547, 552, 43 Cal.Rptr. 3, 399 P.2d 571; In re Dixon, 41 Cal.2d 756, 759, 264 P.2d 513), ... the murder, and Terry claims that the court failed to comply with the procedure required by Jackson v. Denno (1964) 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908, to determine whether the statements ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
46 books & journal articles
  • Suppressing Involuntary Confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2017 Contents
    • 4 Agosto 2017
    ...is supposed to be irrelevant when a court considers whether or not a confession was coerced and should be suppressed. Jackson v. Denno , 378 U.S. 368 (1964). However, courts will consider evidence 11-33 SUPPRESSING INVOLUNTARY CONFESSIONS §11:58 that police contaminated a confession, by fee......
  • Table of cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Forms. Volume II - 2014 Contents
    • 12 Agosto 2014
    ...Co. , 969 S.W.2d 427 (Tex. 1998), §15:62 Ivey v. State , 277 S.W.3d 43 (Tex.Cr.App. 2009), §20:12, Form 20-3.2 — J — Jackson v. Denno , 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964), §6:14 Jackson v. State , 17 S.W.3d 664 (Tex.Cr.App. 2000), Form 13-30 Jackson v. State, 50 S.W.3d 579 (......
  • Suppressing involuntary confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Confessions and other statements
    • 1 Abril 2022
    ...is supposed to be irrelevant when a court considers whether a confession was coerced and should be suppressed. Jackson v. Denno , 378 U.S. 368 (1964); Rogers v. Richmond , 365 U.S. 534 (1961). These holdings were designed to enforce the prohibition against coercing confessions by precluding......
  • Lego v. Twomey: the improbable relationship between an obscure Supreme Court decision and wrongful convictions.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 47 No. 3, June 2010
    • 22 Junio 2010
    ...for protection of the innocent by making of them mere technical loopholes for the escape of the guilty."), overruled by Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (23.) See infra Parts II-III. (24.) See United States v. Jenkins, 728 F.2d 396, 399 (6th Cir. 1984) ("In addition to protecting the rights o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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