Richardson v. Marsh

Decision Date21 April 1987
Docket NumberNo. 85-1433,85-1433
Citation95 L.Ed.2d 176,107 S.Ct. 1702,481 U.S. 200
PartiesGloria RICHARDSON, Warden, Petitioner v. Clarissa MARSH
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent and Benjamin Williams were charged with murder, robbery, and assault. At their joint trial, Williams' confession was admitted over respondent's objection. The confession had been redacted to omit all reference to respondent—indeed, to omit all indication that anyone other than Williams and a third accomplice participated in the crime. In his confession, Williams described a conversation he had with the third accomplice as they drove to the victims' home, during which the accomplice said that he would have to kill the victims after robbing them. At the time the confession was admitted, the jury was admonished not to use it in any way against respondent. Williams did not testify. Respondent's testimony indicated that she had been in the car with Williams and the third accomplice but had not heard their conversation. Respondent insisted that she had not intended to rob or kill anyone. Respondent was convicted of felony murder and assault to commit murder, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed. The Federal District Court denied respondent's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent was entitled to a new trial under Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 20 L.Ed.2d 476. Bruton held that a defendant is deprived of his rights under the Confrontation Clause when his nontestifying codefendant's confession naming him as a participant in the crime is introduced at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed to consider that confession only against the codefendant. The Court of Appeals held that Bruton requires the same result when the codefendant's confession is redacted to omit any reference to the defendant, but the defendant is nonetheless linked to the confession by evidence properly admitted against him at trial.

Held: The Confrontation Clause is not violated by the admission of a nontestifying codefendant's confession with a proper limiting instruction when, as here, the confession is redacted to eliminate not only the defendant's name, but any reference to her existence. The Bruton Court recognized a very narrow exception to the almost invariable assumption of the law that jurors follow their instructions in the situation when the facially incriminating confession of a nontestifying codefendant is introduced at a joint trial and the jury is instructed to consider the confession only against the codefendant. In that situation, Bruton explained, the risk that the jury will not follow its instructions is so great and the consequences of that failure so vital to the defendant that jurors will be assumed incapable of obeying their instructions. There are two important distinctions between this case and Bruton, which cause it to fall outside the narrow exception Bruton created. First, in Bruton the codefendant's confession expressly implicated the defendant as his accomplice, whereas here the confession was not incriminating on its face, but became so only when linked with evidence introduced later at trial. Where the necessity of such linkage is involved, there does not exist the overwhelming probability of jurors' inability to disregard incriminating inferences that is the foundation of Bruton. Second, evidence requiring linkage differs from evidence incriminating on its face in the practical effects which application of the Bruton exception would produce. If limited to facially incriminating confessions, Bruton can be complied with by redaction. If extended to confessions incriminating by connection, not only is that not possible, but it is not even possible to predict the admissibility of a confession in advance of trial. Compliance with the Court of Appeals' overbroad reading of Bruton could not be achieved without enormous costs to the criminal justice system. Pp. 206-211.

781 F.2d 1201 (CA 6 1986), reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 211.

Timothy A. Baughman, Detroit, Mich., for petitioner.

Lawrence S. Robbins, New York City, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

R. Steven Whalen, Detroit, Mich., for respondent.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 20 L.Ed.2d 476 (1968), we held that a defendant is deprived of his rights under the Confrontation Clause when his nontestifying codefendant's confession naming him as a participant in the crime is introduced at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed to consider that confession only against the codefendant. Today we consider whether Bruton requires the same result when the codefendant's confession is redacted to omit any reference to the defendant, but the defendant is nonetheless linked to the confession by evidence properly admitted against him at trial.

I

Respondent Clarissa Marsh, Benjamin Williams, and Kareem Martin were charged with assaulting Cynthia Knighton and murdering her 4-year-old son, Koran, and her aunt, Ollie Scott. Respondent and Williams were tried jointly, over her objection. (Martin was a fugitive at the time of trial.) At the trial, Knighton testified as follows: On the evening of October 29, 1978, she and her son were at Scott's home when respondent and her boyfriend Martin visited. After a brief conversation in the living room, respondent announced that she had come to "pick up something" from Scott and rose from the couch. Martin then pulled out a gun, pointed it at Scott and the Knightons, and said that "someone had gotten killed and [Scott] knew something about it." Respondent immediately walked to the front door and peered out the peephole. The doorbell rang, respondent opened the door, and Williams walked in, carrying a gun. As Williams passed respondent, he asked, "Where's the money?" Martin forced Scott upstairs, and Williams went into the kitchen, leaving respondent alone with the Knightons. Knighton and her son attempted to flee, but respondent grabbed Knighton and held her until Williams returned. Williams ordered the Knightons to lie on the floor and then went upstairs to assist Martin. Respondent, again left alone with the Knightons, stood by the front door and occasionally peered out the peephole. A few minutes later, Martin, Williams, and Scott came down the stairs, and Martin handed a paper grocery bag to respondent. Martin and Williams then forced Scott and the Knightons into the basement, where Martin shot them. Only Cynthia Knighton survived.

In addition to Knighton's testimony, the State introduced (over respondent's objection) a confession given by Williams to the police shortly after his arrest. The confession was redacted to omit all reference to respondent—indeed, to omit all indication that anyone other than Martin and Williams participated in the crime.1 The confession largely corrobo- rated Knighton's account of the activities of persons other than respondent in the house. In addition, the confession described a conversation Williams had with Martin as they drove to the Scott home, during which, according to Williams, Martin said that he would have to kill the victims after the robbery. At the time the confession was admitted, the jury was admonished not to use it in any way against respondent. Williams did not testify.

After the State rested, respondent took the stand. She testified that on October 29, 1978, she had lost money that Martin intended to use to buy drugs. Martin was upset, and suggested to respondent that she borrow money from Scott, with whom she had worked in the past. Martin and respondent picked up Williams and drove to Scott's house. During the drive, respondent, who was sitting in the backseat, "knew that [Martin and Williams] were talking" but could not hear the conversation because "the radio was on and the speaker was right in [her] ear." Martin and respondent were admitted into the home, and respondent had a short conversation with Scott, during which she asked for a loan. Martin then pulled a gun, and respondent walked to the door to see where the car was. When she saw Williams, she opened the door for him. Respondent testified that during the robbery she did not feel free to leave and was too scared to flee. She said that she did not know why she prevented the Knightons from escaping. She admitted taking the bag from Martin, but said that after Martin and Williams took the victims into the basement, she left the house without the bag. Respondent insisted that she had possessed no prior knowledge that Martin and Williams were armed, had heard no conversation about anyone's being harmed, and had not intended to rob or kill anyone.

During his closing argument, the prosecutor admonished the jury not to use Williams' confession against respondent. Later in his argument, however, he linked respondent to the portion of Williams' confession describing his conversation with Martin in the car.2 (Respondent's attorney did not object to this.) After closing arguments, the judge again instructed the jury that Williams' confession was not to be considered against respondent. The jury convicted respondent of two counts of felony murder in the perpetration of an armed robbery and one count of assault with intent to commit murder. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion, People v. Marsh, No. 46128 (Dec. 17, 1980), and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal, 412 Mich. 927 (1982).

Respondent then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. She alleged that her conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence and that introduction of Williams' confession at the joint trial had...

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