Rogers v. Richmond

Decision Date20 March 1961
Docket NumberNo. 40,40
Citation81 S.Ct. 735,365 U.S. 534,5 L.Ed.2d 760
PartiesHarold D. ROGERS, Petitioner, v. Mark S. RICHMOND, Warden
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Louis H. Pollak and Jacob D. Zeldes, Bridgeport, Conn., for petitioner.

Messrs. Abraham S. Ullman, New Haven, Conn., and Robert C. C. Zampano, East Haven, Conn., for respondent.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case has a long history. It must be told with some particularity in order to unravel issues ensnarled in protracted litigation in both state and federal courts, turning essentially on the admissibility of confessions.

The Trial.—Petitioner was found guilty of murder by a jury in the Superior Court, New Haven County, Connecticut. The undisputed evidence leading to the conviction may be briefly told. On January 9, 1954. New Haven, Connecticut, police arrested petitioner on charges of committing attempted robbery and other crimes on that day at a local hotel. At the time of his arrest petitioner had in his possession a revolver. Subsequent ballistic tests tended to show that this weapon, which had been reported stolen from the home of petitioner's nephew, was used in a fatal shooting during a liquor store robbery in West Haven, Connecticut, on November 21, 1953, the same day its disappearance was discovered.

Petitioner was lodged in the New Haven County Jail pending trial on the charges that prompted his arrest. On January 30, 1954, he was transported without court order from the jail to the office of the State's Attorney for questioning in connection with the West Haven killing. The interrogation commenced at approximately 2 p.m. of that day and continued throughout the afternoon and evening. During the interrogation petitioner was allowed to smoke, was brought a sandwich and coffee, and was at no time subjected to violence or threat of violence.

After petitioner had been intermittently questioned without success by a team of at least three police officers from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., New Haven Assistant Chief of Police Eagan was called in to conduct the investigation. When petitioner persisted in his denial that he had done the shooting, Chief Eagan pretended, in petitioner's hearing, to place a telephone call to police officers, directing them to stand in readiness to bring in petitioner's wife for questioning. After the passage of approximately one hour, during which petitioner remained silent. Chief Eagan indicated that he was about to have petitioner's wife taken into custody. At this point petitioner announced his willingness to confess and did confess in a statement which was taken down in shorthand by an official court reporter.

The following morning the Coroner of New Haven County issued an order that petitioner be held incommunicado at the jail. When a lawyer associated with counsel whom petitioner had previously retained to defend him on the attempted robbery charge called at the jail to see petitioner, he was turned away on the authority of the Coroner's order. Petitioner was then transported to the County Court House for interrogation by the Coroner, who had been informed of his confession of the previous night. There he was put on oath to tell the truth but warned that he might refuse to say anything further and advised that he might obtain the assistance of counsel. Petitioner again confessed to the shooting in a statement recorded by the same official court reporter.

Petitioner's defense at the trial was directed toward discrediting the confessions as the product of coercion. In accordance with Connecticut practice, see, e.g., State v. Willis, 71 Conn. 293, 41 A. 820; State v. Guastamachio, 137 Conn. 179, 75 A.2d 429, the trial judge heard the evidence bearing on admissibility of the confessions without the jury present. At this hearing petitioner testified that shortly after the commencement of the interrogation he asked to see a lawyer but was never permitted to do so. He also testified, with reference to Chief Eagen's pretense of bringing petitioner's wife in for questioning, that this move took the form of a threat to do so unless he confessed and that in making this threat Chief Eagan told him that he would be 'less than a man' if he failed to confess and thereby caused her to be taken into custody. According to petitioner his wife suffered from arthritis, and he confessed to spare her being transported to the scene of the interrogation.

The State met petitioner's account with the testimony of Chief Eagan. He testified that petitioner made no request to see a lawyer during his presence in the room. However, it will be recalled that Chief Eagan did not arrive until the questioning had run a course of six hours and that petitioner claimed to have requested counsel during that period. Chief Eagan also denied that he had framed his remarks about bringing petitioner's wife in for questioning as a threat or that he had suggested that petitioner would be 'less than a man,' etc.

On the basis of the evidence summarized, the trial judge concluded that the confessions were voluntary and allowed them to go to the jury for consideration of the weight to be given them under all the circumstances that led to them. Conviction of petitioner for murder followed.

Review by the Connecticut Supreme Court.—On appeal, the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut, finding no error in the trial judge's admission of the confessions, affirmed the conviction, State v. Rogers, 143 Conn. 167, 120 A.2d 409.

First Federal Habeas Corpus Proceeding,—In August of 1956, after satisfying the rule of Darr v. Burford, 339 U.S. 200, 70 S.Ct. 587, 94 L.Ed. 761, petitioner sought a federal writ of habeas corpus, basically on the ground that since the confessions were secured under circumstances rendering them constitutionally inadmsisible, he was denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut held a hearing based on the evidence offered by the parties. This evidence included excerpts from the record of the state proceedings as well as testimony of petitioner and various state officials. Neither petitioner nor respondent submitted the entire transcript of the state proceedings and the district judge did not call for it. Petitioner again testified that before he confessed he had requested an oppor- tunity to confer with his lawyer. His testimony was flatly contradicted by three police officers called by the State's Attorney, none of whom had testified at the trial.

On the testimony before him, the district judge made findings which differed from those of the state trial judge in several important respects. He accepted petitioner's testimony that during the police interrogation he had asked to see his lawyer before he yielded to Chief Eagan's efforts to have him confess. He also found that the confession before the Coroner was the product of fear that repudiation of the earlier confession would lead the police to take his wife and foster children into custody. Accordingly, he concluded that 'The confessions were the result of pressure overcoming Rogers' powers of resistance and were not voluntary on his part,' United States ex rel. Rogers v. Cummings, D.C., 154 F.Supp. 663, 665. He therefore set aside the judgment of conviction.

First Court of Appeals Review.—On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the District Court's judgment, finding that it was error to hold a hearing de novo on issues of basic evidentiary fact that had been considered and adjudicated by the state courts. Relying on Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 73 S.Ct. 397, 97 L.Ed. 469, the Court of Appeals concluded that the district judge should have called for the entire state record before reaching his decision. It held

'that in the case now before us the nature of the issues presented and proper regard for the delicate balance of federal-state relationships required the District Judge to obtain and examine the State proceedings * * *. Only on an adequate state record can the District Court determine if a vital flaw exists which warrants correction by extrinsic evidence.' United States ex rel. Rogers v. Richmond, 2 Cir., 252 F.2d 807, 810, 811.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the District Court with the following instructions:

'Unless the judge below shall find in the record thus before him material which he deems to constitute 'vital flaws' and 'unusual circumstances' within the meaning of Brown v. Allen, we hold that he should make the necessary constitutional determinations exclusively on the basis of the historical facts as found by the State trial court.' 252 F.2d at page 811.

Certiorari Proceeding.—The petitioner sought certiorari here and we denied the petition with this per curiam opinion:

'The petition for writ of certiorari is denied. We read the opinion of the Court of Appeals as holding that while the District Judge may, unless he finds a vital flaw in the State Court proceedings, accept the determination in such proceedings, he need not deem such determination binding, and may take testimony. See Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 506, et seq., 73 S.Ct. 397, 97 L.Ed. 469.' Rogers v. Richmond, 357 U.S. 220, 78 S.Ct. 1365, 2 L.Ed.2d 1361.

Second Federal Habeas Corpus Proceeding.—On remand, the district judge had before him the entire transcript of the state proceedings and on the basis of it dismissed the petition. United States ex rel. Rogers v. Richmond, D.C., 178 F.Supp. 69. While he adhered to his belief in petitioner's testimony in the first habeas corpus hearing, he now considered himself obliged to accept the state court's 'Findings,' rather than his own, on all points of historical fact 'unless some vital flaw or unusual circumstance exists or some other basis appears for consideration of testimony outside the record.' 178 F.Supp. at pages 71—72. The district judge found no such 'flaw' or 'circumstance' to permit...

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