Lynumn v. State of Illinois, 9

Decision Date25 March 1963
Docket NumberNo. 9,9
Citation9 L.Ed.2d 922,83 S.Ct. 917,372 U.S. 528
PartiesBeatrice LYNUMN, Petitioner, v. STATE OF ILLINOIS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mrs. Jewel Rogers Lafontant, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

William C. Wines, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was tried in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois, on an indictment charging her with the unlawful possession and sale of marijuana. She was convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for 'not less than ten nor more than eleven years.' The judgment of conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court. 21 Ill.2d 63, 171 N.E.2d 17. We granted certiorari 370 U.S. 933, 82 S.Ct. 1576, 8 L.Ed.2d 805. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we hold that the petitioner's trial did not meet the demands of due process of law, and we accordingly set aside the judgment before us.

On January 17, 1959, three Chicago police officers arrested James Zeno for unlawful possession of narcotics. They took him to a district police station. There they told him that if he 'would set somebody up for them, they would go light' on him. He agreed to 'cooperate' and telephoned the petitioner, telling her that he was coming over to her apartment. The officers and Zeno then went to the petitioner's apartment house, and Zeno went upstairs to the third floor while the officers waited below. Some time later, variously estimated as from five to 20 minutes, Zeno emerged from the petitioner's third floor apartment with a package containing a substance later determined to be marijuana. The officers took the package and told Zeno to return to the petitioner's apartment on the pretext that he had left his glasses there. When the petitioner walked out into the hallway in response to Zeno's call, one of the officers seized her and placed her under arrest.1 The officers and Zeno then entered the petitioner's apartment.2 The petitioner at first denied she had sold the marijuana to Zeno, insisting that while he was in her apartment Zeno had merely repaid a loan. After further conversations with the officers, however, she told them that she had sold the marijuana to Zeno.

The officers testified to this oral confession at the petitioner's trial, and it is this testimony which, we now hold, fatally infected the petitioner's conviction. The petitioner testified at the trial that she had not in fact sold any marijuana to Zeno, that Zeno had merely repaid a long-standing loan. 3 She also testified, however, that she had told the officers on the day of her arrest that she had sold Zeno marijuana, describing the circumstances under which this statement was made as follows:

'I told him (Officer Sims) I hadn't sold Zeno; I didn't know anything about narcotics and I had no source of supply. He kept insisting I had a source of supply and had been dealing in narcotics. I kept telling him I did not and that I knew nothing about it. Then he started telling me I could get 10 years and the children could be taken away, and after I got out they would be taken away and strangers would have them, and if I could cooperate he would see they weren't; and he would recommend leniency and I had better do what they told me if I wanted to see my kids again. The two children are three and four years old. Their father is dead; they live with me. I love my children very much. I have never been arrested for anything in my whole life before. I did not know how much power a policeman had in a recommendation to the State's Attorney or to the Court. I did not know that a Court and a State's Attorney are not bound by a police officer's recommendations. I did not know anything about it. All the officers talked to me about my children and the time I could get for not cooperating. All three officers did. After that conversation I believed that if I cooperated with them and answered the questions the way they wanted me to answer, I believed that I would not be prosecuted. They had said I had better say what they wanted me to, or I would lose the kids. I said I would say anything they wanted me to say. I asked what I was to say. I was told to say 'You must admit you gave Zeno the package' so I said, 'Yes, I gave it to him.'

'* * * The only reason I had for admitting it to the police was the hope of saving myself from going to jail and being taken away from my children. The statement I made to the police after they promised that they would intercede for me, the statements admitting the crime, were false.

'* * * My statement to the police officers that I sold the marijuana to Zeno was false. I lied to the police at that time. I lied because the police told me they were going to send me to jail for 10 years and take my children, and I would never see them again; so I agreed to say whatever they wanted me to say.'

The police officers did not deny that these were the circumstances under which the petitioner told them that she had sold marijuana to Zeno. To the contrary, their testimony largely corroborated the petitioner's testimony. Officer Sims testified:

'I told her then that Zeno had been trapped and we asked him to cooperate; that he had made a phone call to her and subsequently had purchased the evidence from her. I told her then if she wished to cooperate, we would be willing to recommend to the State leniency in her case. At that time, she said, 'Yes, I did sell it to him.'

'* * * While I was talking to her in the bedroom, she told me that she had children and she had taken the children over to her mother-in-law, to keep her children.

'Q. Did you or anybody in your presence indicate or suggest or say to her that her children would be taken away from her if she didn't do what you asked her to do?

'Witness: I believe there was some mention of her children being taken away from her if she was arrested.

'The Court: By whom? Who made mention of it?

'The Witness: I believe Officer Bryson made that statement and I think I made the statement at some time during the course of our discussion that her children could be taken from her. We did not say if she cooperated they wouldn't be taken. I don't know whether Kobar said that to her or not. I don't recall if Kobar said that to her or not.

'I asked her who the clothing belonged to. She said they were her children's. I asked how many she had and she said 2. I asked her where they were or who took care of them. She said the children were over at the mother's or mother-in-law. I asked her how did she take care of herself and she said she was on ADC. I told her that if we took her into the station and charged her with the offense, that the ADC would probably be cut off and also that she would probably lose custody of her children. That was not before I said if she cooperated, it would go light on her. It was during the same conversation.

'* * * I made the statement to her more than once; but I don't know how many times, that she had been set up and if she cooperated we would go light with her.'

Officer Bryson testified:

'Miss Lynumn said she was thinking about her children and she didn't want to go to jail. I was present and heard something pertaining to her being promised leniency if she would cooperate. I don't know exactly who said it. I could have, myself, or Sims.'

It is thus abundantly clear that the petitioner's oral confession was made only after the police had told her that state financial aid for her infant children would be cut off, and her children taken from her, if she did not 'cooperate.' These threats were made while she was encircled in her apartment by three police officers and a twice convicted felon who had purportedly 'set her up.' There was no friend or adviser to whom she might turn. She had had no previous experience with the criminal law, and had no reason not to believe that the police had ample power to carry out their threats.

We think it clear that a confession made under such circumstances must be deemed not voluntary, but coerced. That is the teaching of our cases. We have said that the question in each case is whether the defendant's will was overborne at the time he confessed. Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 60 S.Ct. 472, 84 L.Ed. 716; Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 52, 53, 69 S.Ct. 1347, 1348, 1349, 93 L.Ed. 1801; Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 558, 74 S.Ct. 716, 717, 98 L.Ed. 948. If so, the confession cannot be deemed 'the product of a rational intellect and a free will.' Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 208, 80 S.Ct. 274, 280, 4 L.Ed.2d 242. See also Spano v. People of State of New York, 360 U.S. 315, 79 S.Ct. 1202, 3 L.Ed.2d 1265; Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 64 S.Ct. 921, 88 L.Ed. 1192; and see particularly, harris v. South Carolina, 338 U.S. 68, 70, 69 S.Ct. 1354, 1355, 93 L.Ed. 1815.

In this case counsel for the State of Illinois has conceded, at least for purposes of argument, that the totality of the circumstances disclosed by the record must be deemed to have combined to produce an impellingly coer- cive effect upon the petitioner at the time she told the officers she had sold marijuana to Zeno. But counsel for the State argues that we should nonetheless affirm the judgment before us upon either of two alternative grounds. It is contended first that the petitioner did not properly assert or preserve her federal constitutional claim in accord with established rules of Illinois procedure, and that her conviction therefore rests upon an adequate and independent foundation of state law. Secondly, it is urged that the petitioner's conviction 'does not rest in whole or in any part upon petitioner's confession.' We find both of these contentions without validity.

It is true that the record in this case does not show that the petitioner explicitly asserted her federal constitutional claim in the trial court. And it is said that in Illinois the procedural rule is settled that where a constitutional claim which is based not upon...

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