Lego v. Twomey 8212 5037, 70

Citation30 L.Ed.2d 618,92 S.Ct. 619,404 U.S. 477
Decision Date12 January 1972
Docket NumberNo. 70,70
PartiesDon Richard LEGO, Petitioner, v. John TWOMEY, Warden. —5037
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Following a pretrial suppression hearing at which conflicting evidence was presented as to the voluntariness of a confession that petitioner had given the police, the trial judge, presumably applying the Illinois preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, held the confession admissible, and it was introduced into evidence at the trial, which resulted in petitioner's conviction. The judge had instructed the jury as to the prosecution's burden of proving guilt but did not instruct that the jury had to find the confession voluntary before it could be used in reaching its verdict. In a habeas corpus proceeding petitioner challenged his conviction. The District Court denied relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Petitioner contends, relying upon In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368, that the trial judge should have found the confession voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt before admitting it into evidence, or, alternatively, that the admissibility of the confession as evidence in a criminal trial (quite apart from its probative value) had to be determined by a reasonable-doubt standard to protect the values that exclusionary rules are designed to serve. Petitioner also urges that, even though the trial judge ruled on his coercion claim, he was entitled under Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 88 S.Ct. 1444, 20 L.Ed.2d 491, to have the jury decide that issue anew. Held:

1. The hearing on the voluntariness of a confession required by this Court's decision in Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908, is not designed to implement the presumption of innocence and enhance the reliability of jury verdicts, but to prevent the use of a coerced confession as violative of due process quite apart from its truth or falsity. Consequently, determining the admissibility of a confession by a preponderance of the evidence is not inconsistent with the mandate of In re Winship, supra. Pp. 482—487.

2. Petitioner has not demonstrated that admissibility rulings based on the preponderance-of-evidence standard are unreliable or that imposition of any higher standard under expanded exclusionary rules would be sufficiently productive to outweigh the public interest in having probative evidence available to juries. Pp. 487—489.

3. The procedure followed here comported with the requirements of Jackson, supra, and petitioner was not entitled to have the voluntariness issue which had been resolved by the trial judge also submitted to a jury for its separate consideration. Nor did Duncan, supra, change the rule that determining the admissibility of evidence is a function of the court rather than of the jury. P. 489—490.

Affirmed.

Nathan Lewin, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

James B. Zagel, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1964 this Court held that a criminal defendant who challenges the voluntariness of a confession made to officials and sought to be used against him at his trial has a due process right to a reliable determination that the confession was in fact voluntarily given and not the outcome of coercion which the Constitution forbids. Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908. While our decision made plain that only voluntary confessions may be admitted at the trial of guilt or innocence, we did not then announce, or even suggest, that the factfinder at a coercion hearing need judge voluntariness with reference to an especially severe standard of proof. Never- theless, since Jackson, state and federal courts have addressed themselves to the issue with a considerable variety of opinions.1 We granted certiorari in this case to resolve the question. 401 U.S. 992, 91 S.Ct. 1238, 28 L.Ed.2d 530 (1971).

Petitioner Lego was convicted of armed robbery in 1961 after a jury trial in Superior Court, Cook County, Illinois. The court sentenced him to prison for 25 to 50 years. The evidence introduced against Lego at trial included a confession he had made to police after arrest and while in custody at the station house. Prior to trial Lego sought to have the confession suppressed. He did not deny making it but did challenge that he had done so voluntarily. The trial judge conducted a hearing, out of the presence of the jury, at which Lego testified that police had beaten him about the head and neck with a gun butt. His explanation of this treatment was that the local police chief, a neighbor and former classmate of the robbery victim, had sought revenge upon him. Lego introduced into evidence a photograph that had been taken of him at the county jail on the day after his arrest. The photograph showed that petitioner's face had been swollen and had traces of blood on it. Lego admitted that his face had been scratched in a scuffle with the robbery victim but maintained that the encounter did not explain the condition shown in the photograph. The police chief and four officers also testified. They denied either beating or threatening petitioner and disclaimed knowledge that any other officer had done so. The trial judge resolved this credibility problem in favor of the police and ruled the confession admissible.2 At trial, Lego testified in his own behalf. Although he did not dispute the truth of the confession directly, he did tell his version of the events that had transpired at the police station. The trial judge instructed the jury as to the prosecution's burden of proving guilt. He did not instruct that the jury was required to find the confession voluntary before it could be used in judging guilt or innocence.3 On direct appeal the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. People v. Lego, 32 Ill.2d 76, 203 N.E.2d 875 (1965).

Four years later petitioner challenged his conviction by seeking a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He maintained that the trial judge should have found the confession voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt before admitting it into evidence. Although the judge had made no mention of the standard he used, Illinois law provided that a confession challenged as involuntary could be admitted into evidence if, at a hearing outside the presence of the jury, the judge found it voluntary by a preponderance of the evidence.4 In the alternative petitioner argued that the voluntariness question should also have been submitted to the jury for its separate con- sideration. After first denying the writ for failure to exhaust state remedies, the District Court granted a rehearing motion, concluded that Lego had no state remedy then available to him and denied relief on the merits. United States ex rel. Lego v. Pate, 308 F.Supp. 38 (1970).5 The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. 6

I

Petitioner challenges the judgment of the Court of Appeals on three grounds. The first is that he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as required by In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970), because the confession used against him at his trial had been proved voluntary only by a preponderance of the evidence. Implicit in the claim is an assumption that a voluntariness hearing is designed to enhance the reliability of jury verdicts. To judge whether that is so we must return to Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S.Ct. 1774, 12 L.Ed.2d 908 (1964).

In New York prior to Jackson, juries most often determined the voluntariness of confessions and hence whether confessions could be used in deciding guilt or innocence. Trial judges were required to make an initial determination and could exclude a confession, but only if it could not under any circumstances be deemed voluntary.7 When voluntariness was fairly debatable, either because a dispute of fact existed or because reasonable men could have drawn differing inferences from undisputed facts, the question whether the confession violated due process was for the jury. This meant the confession was introduced at the trial itself. If evidence challenging its voluntariness were adduced, the jury was instructed first to pass upon voluntariness and, if it found the confession involuntary, ignore it in determining guilt. If, on the other hand, the confession were found to be voluntary, the jury was then free to consider its truth or falsity and give the confession an appropriate weight in judging guilt or innocence.

We concluded that the New York procedure was constitutionally defective because at no point along the way did a criminal defendant receive a clear-cut determination that the confession used against him was in fact voluntary. The trial judge was not entitled to exclude a confession merely because he himself would have found it involuntary, and, while we recognized that the jury was empowered to perform that function, we doubted it could do so reliably. Precisely because confessions of guilt, whether coerced or freely given, may be truthful and potent evidence, we did not believe a jury could be called upon to ignore the probative value of a truthful but coerced confession; it was also likely, we thought, that in judging voluntariness itself the jury would be influenced by the reliability of a confession it considered an accurate account of the facts. 'It is now axiomatic,' we said,

'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...

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