Lee v. Illinois, No. 84-6807

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER
Citation476 U.S. 530,106 S.Ct. 2056,90 L.Ed.2d 514
Decision Date03 June 1986
Docket NumberNo. 84-6807
PartiesMillie R. LEE, Petitioner v. ILLINOIS

476 U.S. 530
106 S.Ct. 2056
90 L.Ed.2d 514
Millie R. LEE, Petitioner

v.

ILLINOIS.

No. 84-6807.
Argued Dec. 9, 1985.
Decided June 3, 1986.
Syllabus

Petitioner and a codefendant, charged with committing a double murder, were tried jointly in an Illinois court in a bench trial at which neither defendant testified. In finding petitioner guilty of both murders, the judge expressly relied on portions of the codefendant's confession, particularly with respect to the judge's rejection of petitioner's assertions that she had not participated in the murder of one of the victims and that she had acted either in self-defense or under intense and sudden passion in killing the other victim. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed petitioner's convictions, rejecting her contention that her rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated by the trial judge's consideration of the codefendant's confession against her.

Held: The trial court's reliance upon the codefendant's confession as substantive evidence against petitioner violated her rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 539-547.

(a) The right of cross-examination is included in an accused's right to confront the witnesses against him; the right to confront and to cross-examine witnesses is primarily a functional right that promotes reliability in criminal trials. This truthfinding function of the Confrontation Clause is uniquely threatened when an accomplice's confession is sought to be introduced against a defendant without the benefit of cross-examination, since such a confession is hearsay, subject to all the dangers of inaccuracy which characterize hearsay generally, and since the accomplice may have a strong motivation to implicate the defendant and to exonerate himself. Thus, accomplices' confessions that incriminate defendants are presumptively unreliable. Pp. 539-543.

(b) On the record here, the codefendant's confession did not bear sufficient independent "indicia of reliability," Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 66, 100 S.Ct. 2531, 2539, 65 L.Ed.2d 597, to rebut the presumption of unreliability. The circumstances surrounding the confession did not rebut the presumption that the codefendant's statement could not be trusted as regards petitioner's participation in the murders. Nor is there any merit to Illinois' assertion that reliability was established because petitioner's confession and the codefendant's confession "interlocked" on some points. A codefendant's confession is not rendered reliable simply because some of the facts it contains "interlock" with the facts of the defendant's statement.

Page 531

Although the confessions here overlapped in their factual recitations to a great extent, they clearly diverged with respect to petitioner's participation in the planning of one victim's death, her facilitation of the murder of the other victim, and factual circumstances relevant to the couple's premeditation. Thus, the subjects upon which the two confessions did not "interlock" cannot be characterized as irrelevant or trivial. The determination, in the first instance, of whether the error as to the trial judge's consideration of the codefendant's confession was harmless, is for the state courts. Pp. 543-547.

129 Ill.App.3d 1167, 96 Ill.Dec. 931, 491 N.E.2d 1391 (1984), reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 547.

Dan W. Evers, Mount Vernon, Ill., for petitioner.

Jill Wine-Banks, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner and a codefendant, charged with committing a double murder, were tried jointly in a bench trial. Neither defendant testified at trial. In finding petitioner guilty as charged, the trial judge expressly relied on portions of the codefendant's confession, obtained by police at the time of arrest, as substantive evidence against petitioner. The question for decision is whether such reliance by the judge upon the codefendant's confession violated petitioner's rights as secured by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment,1 as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Page 532

I

In February 1982, police officers of East St. Louis asked petitioner Millie Lee to come to the police station to help identify a badly burned body that the police had discovered in an apartment in the housing complex in which Lee lived. While Lee was examining photographs of the body, a detective noticed that she began to cry. The detective advised Lee of her Miranda rights, and began to question her about the whereabouts of her aunt, Mattie Darden,2 with whom Lee shared an apartment. After giving a number of confused and conflicting accounts concerning when she had last seen or talked to her aunt, Lee finally admitted that she and her boyfriend, Edwin Thomas, had been involved in the stabbing of both Aunt Beedie and her friend, Odessa Harris, and that the body was her Aunt Beedie's. At that point, the officers questioning Lee again read her her Miranda rights, placed her under arrest, and continued to question her. After concluding their interview with Lee, the police presented her with a typewritten account of her statement, which included at the top of the first page a recitation and waiver of her Miranda rights. Lee read and signed each page of the confession.

Petitioner's codefendant, Edwin Thomas, arrived at the police station, ostensibly for "questioning" about the homicides, while police officers were still in the process of interviewing Lee; nonetheless, the police apparently were sufficiently informed of Thomas' involvement such that upon his arrival, he was read his rights and confronted by an officer with his alleged participation in the murders. Thomas indicated at that point that he "wanted to think about" whether to talk to the police.

During her questioning by the police, Millie Lee had asked to see Edwin Thomas; after being advised of his rights, Thomas asked if he could see Lee. After they obtained Lee's confession, the police allowed the two to meet. Lee

Page 533

and Thomas were permitted to kiss and to hug, and one of the officers then asked Lee, in the presence of Thomas, "what was the statement you had just given us implicating Edwin?" Lee said to Thomas: "They know about the whole thing, don't you love me Edwin, didn't you in fact say . . . that we wouldn't let one or the other take the rap alone." Brief for Respondent 6. At that point, Thomas gave a statement to the police, which was later typed and then presented to Thomas for his review and signature.

According to Lee's statement, on the evening of February 11, 1982, she and Thomas were at home in the apartment that Lee shared with Aunt Beedie when the aunt and her friend Odessa Harris arrived at approximately 8:30 or 9 p.m. Aunt Beedie and Odessa went into the bedroom, while Lee did the dishes in the kitchen. Thomas, who had been watching television, joined Lee in the kitchen, and the two apparently had "two or three words not really an argument." Odessa then came out of the bedroom to the kitchen and asked "what the hell was going on." As related in Lee's confession, Odessa "said we ought to be ashamed of ourselves arguing and making all that noise. I told her it was none of her business that she didn't live here." Odessa returned to the bedroom. App. 6.

As Lee's account further related, after Odessa returned to the bedroom Lee called her back into the kitchen in order to confirm whether Aunt Beedie had "really" paid the rent. Odessa assured Lee that the rent had indeed been paid, and then complained once more about the fact that Lee and Thomas had been arguing. As Odessa left the kitchen to return to the bedroom, she passed Thomas and gave him "dirty looks." When Odessa turned her head Thomas got up from his chair and stabbed Odessa in the back with a 24-inch-long knife. Odessa fell on the floor, and called out to Aunt Beedie. Lee explained that she then

"ran, well I don't know if I ran or walked into the bedroom. Edwin was standing over by the kitchen cabinet with the knife in his hand with blood on it. Odessa was

Page 534

laying there moaning. When I went into the bedroom my aunt Beety was sitting on the bed and then she got up and had a knife in her hand. I don't know where the knife came from, my aunt usually kept her gun by her bed. I don't know what kind of gun it is. When my aunt got up off the bed she told me to get out of her way or she would kill me and then she swung at me with the knife. I ran into the kitchen and got a butcher knife that was sitting on the kitchen table and then I went back into the bedroom where my aunt was and then I stabbed her. I kept stabbing her. The first time I stabbed her, I hit her in the chest, I kept stabbing her and I really don't know where else I stabbed her, I had my eyes closed some of the time." Id., at 7.

Lee's statement also included an account of some of the circumstances leading up to the killing:

"Me, and Edwin had talked about stop[p]ing aunt Mattie from harassing me before. She would come in drunk or would get on the phone and tell people that I never did anything for her that I wouldn't give her anything to eat, or anything since I had a boyfriend. . . . Edwin used to get mad when my aunt would talk about me and that he couldn't take much more of what my auntie was doing, that when he began talking about doing something to aunt Beetty [sic] but he never said what. Odessa was always jumping up in my face and one time about a month ago me and Odessa got into an argument about my dress that I let Odessa use and Edwin seen her get in my face that time. He, Edwin just couldn't stand to see my auntie or Odessa harass me anymore. Things just kept adding up and adding up and the night...

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819 practice notes
  • Fratta v. Quarterman, No. 07-70040.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 22, 2008
    ...while in police custody and incriminated Fratta in their confessions. Such confessions are "presumptively unreliable," Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 541, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986), as "when a suspect is in custody for his obvious involvement in serious crimes, his knowledge tha......
  • Figueroa v. Portuondo, No. 97 Civ. 2920(AKH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 10, 1999
    ...88 S.Ct. 1921, 20 L.Ed.2d 1100 (1968))). Later decisions that applied Bruton and Parker are to similar effect. See, e.g., Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 545, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986) ("If those portions of the co-defendant's purportedly `interlocking' statement which bear to an......
  • U.S. v. Camacho, No. S1294CR.313(CSH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 1, 2001
    ...statements about what the defendant said or did are less credible than ordinary hearsay evidence.'") (citing Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 541, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986)); see also Matthews, 20 F.3d at 545. In Cherry's statement to police, he said that he talked with Camacho an......
  • United States v. Aquart, No. 12-5086-cr
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 20, 2018
    ...motives that inform credibility. That is particularly so when the suspect incriminates others as well as himself. See Lee v. Illinois , 476 U.S. 530, 541, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986) (noting presumptive unreliability of hearsay confessions incriminating accomplice’s confederates).......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
819 cases
  • Fratta v. Quarterman, No. 07-70040.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 22, 2008
    ...while in police custody and incriminated Fratta in their confessions. Such confessions are "presumptively unreliable," Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 541, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986), as "when a suspect is in custody for his obvious involvement in serious crimes, his knowledge tha......
  • Figueroa v. Portuondo, No. 97 Civ. 2920(AKH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 10, 1999
    ...88 S.Ct. 1921, 20 L.Ed.2d 1100 (1968))). Later decisions that applied Bruton and Parker are to similar effect. See, e.g., Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 545, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986) ("If those portions of the co-defendant's purportedly `interlocking' statement which bear to an......
  • U.S. v. Camacho, No. S1294CR.313(CSH).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 1, 2001
    ...statements about what the defendant said or did are less credible than ordinary hearsay evidence.'") (citing Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 541, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986)); see also Matthews, 20 F.3d at 545. In Cherry's statement to police, he said that he talked with Camacho an......
  • United States v. Aquart, No. 12-5086-cr
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 20, 2018
    ...motives that inform credibility. That is particularly so when the suspect incriminates others as well as himself. See Lee v. Illinois , 476 U.S. 530, 541, 106 S.Ct. 2056, 90 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986) (noting presumptive unreliability of hearsay confessions incriminating accomplice’s confederates).......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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