Smith v. United States, No. 52

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCLARK
Citation99 L.Ed. 192,348 U.S. 147,75 S.Ct. 194
Decision Date06 December 1954
Docket NumberNo. 52
PartiesDaniel SMITH, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America

348 U.S. 147
75 S.Ct. 194
99 L.Ed. 192
Daniel SMITH, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES of America.

No. 52.
Argued Oct. 21, 22, 1954.
Decided Dec. 6, 1954.

[Syllabus from 147-148 intentionally omitted]

Page 148

Mr.W. Arthur Garrity, Jr., Boston, Mass., for petitioner.

Page 149

Mr.Marvin E. Frankel, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is the third of the net worth cases and the first dealing with the Government's use of extrajudicial statements made by the accused. Petitioner and his wife were jointly tried on five counts charging them with willful attempts to evade and defeat their income taxes for the years 1946 through 1950. A motion for acquittal was granted as to the wife on all five counts, and as to petitioner on the fifth count (for the year 1950). The jury found petitioner guilty on the first four counts, and the conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. 210 F.2d 496. We granted certiorari in order to pass on the issues raised by the prosecution's use of defendant's extrajudicial statements. 347 U.S. 1010, 74 S.Ct. 868.

The Government's theory was that the increases in the net worth of petitioner and his wife exceeded their reported income for each of the prosecution years, and that these increments represented taxable income. The evidence tended to show that petitioner and his wife were persons of moderate means prior to 1945, and that toward the end of that year petitioner acquired a racing-news service. In the four succeeding years, the prosecution years here in issue, petitioner and his wife acquired a large amount of visible wealth in the form of bank accounts, real estate, securities, and other assets. The evidence, taken as a whole, tended to prove that petitioner and his wife had understated their income for the four-year period of by over $190,000.

The issues in this case stem from a statement signed by the petitioner and delivered to the Government agents

Page 150

along with a check, the latter supposedly representing the amount of tax he thought due and owing.1 The statement, a five-page document, included tables on petitioner's securities, prior tax returns, living expenses, and a listing of petitioner's assets for each of the years 1945 through 1949, showing changes in his net worth over the prosecution period. While each of the pages was headed by the names of petitioner and his wife, the statement was signed only by the petitioner. His signature appeared after a clause describing the listing of assets as 'my true net worth for the period covered herein.'

Admissibility of the Statement.

Petitioner contends that his net worth statement should not have been admitted in evidence because it was procured pursuant to an understanding between petitioner and a Government agent that the case would be closed and the petitioner granted immunity. See Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U.S. 1, 14, 45 S.Ct. 1, 3, 69 L.Ed. 131; Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 542—543, 18 S.Ct. 183, 186—187, 42 L.Ed. 568; Wilson v. United States, 162 U.S. 613, 622—623, 16 S.Ct. 895, 899, 40 L.Ed. 1090; Sparf and Hansen v. United States, 156 U.S. 51, 55, 15 S.Ct. 273, 275, 39 L.Ed. 343. Petitioner's accountant, who carried on negotiations with this Government agent, testified that the agent had promised to close the case if the net worth statement and a check to cover the tax deficiency were forthcoming, and that he, the accountant, would never have submitted the statement had he not believed that the case would be closed on this basis. The Government agent testified that he was aware of no such understanding and that he had made no promises to close the case. After a pretrial hearing on petitioner's motion to suppress evidence, the trial judge refused to suppress the net worth statement.

Page 151

During the course of the trial, he refused to hold a hearing outside the presence of the jury to determine preliminary the statement's admissibility. He submitted the issue to the jury with the instruction that they were to reject the statement, and all evidence obtained through it, if 'trickery, fraud or deceit' were practiced on petitioner or his accountant.

The issue of fraud or deceit on the part of the Government agent was properly submitted to the jury, and the jury, in arriving at its general verdict, could have found from the conflicting evidence that no fraudulent inducement had been offered petitioner or his accountant. Petitioner cannot complain that he was denied a voir dire, cf. United States v. Carignan, 342 U.S. 36, 72 S.Ct. 97, 96 L.Ed. 48, since the trial judge had already held a hearing on this issue in passing on the pretrial motion to suppress evidence. Moreover, the only evidence offered by petitioner in seeking this hearing during the trial was the testimony of petitioner's accountant, evidence which had been heard in the pretrial hearing and was narrated again to judge and jury after the voir dire had been denied. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said that the refusal to hold a preliminary hearing deprived petitioner of any substantial right.

Corroboration of Petitioner's Statement.

Petitioner's second major objection is that his net worth statement, as it related to his opening net worth, was not corroborated—or was insufficiently corroborated—by independent evidence. Petitioner's statement listed his opening net worth as follows:

Bank account...........$ 1,079.60

Residence.............. 12,000.00

Automobile........... __2,000.00

Total assets......... $15,079.60

Page 152

The Government agents credited petitioner with a higher opening net worth:

Cash in banks ......... $8,058.58

Drug store partnership.. 5,618.39

Real estate............ 18,600.00

Furniture............... 2,000.00

Automobile.............__2,000.00

Total............... $36,276.97

In determining these opening net worth figures, the Government agents relied in part on figures furnished by petitioner in his net worth statement and in other of his extrajudicial admissions—for the autos, the furniture, and one parcel of real estate. Any variation in these figures would not materially affect the result.2 But petitioner further complains that the Government did not corroborate the negative implications of his net worth statement, that he did not have at the end of 1945 any substantial assets—for example, cash on hand—which were not reflected in his or the Government's net worth computation. The question presented, therefore, is whether there is sufficient independent evidence to corroborate petitioner's extrajudicial admission that he did not have sufficient assets at the starting point to account for the increases in net worth attributed to him in the prosecution years.

The general rule that an accused may not be convicted on his own uncorroborated confession has previously been recognized by this Court, Warszower v. United States, 312 U.S. 342, 61 S.Ct. 603, 85 L.Ed. 876; Isaacs v. United States, 159 U.S. 487, 16 S.Ct. 51, 40 L.Ed. 229; cf. Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304, 311 312, 26 L.Ed. 481, and has been consistently applied in the lower federal courts and

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in the overwhelming majority of state courts, Forte v. United States, 68 App.D.C. 111, 94 F.2d 236, 127 A.L.R. 1130; 7 Wigmore, Evidence, §§ 2070—2072. Its purpose is to prevent 'errors in convictions based upon untrue confessions alone', Warszower v. United States, supra, 312 U.S. at 347, 61 S.Ct. at page 606; its foundation lies in a long history of judicial experience with confessions and in the realization that sound law enforcement requires police investigations which extend beyond the words of the accused. Confessions may be unreliable because they are coerced or induced, and although separate doctrines exclude involuntary confessions from consideration by the jury,...

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574 practice notes
  • United States v. Poole, No. 72-1533.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 17, 1974
    ...is essential that it be corroborated, evidencing the care of the law not to sentence on the basis of a confession. Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 152-153, 75 S.Ct. 194, 99 L.Ed. 192 3 Among the decisions of the Supreme Court reflecting this are Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 6 ......
  • Harris v. Thompson, No. 12–1088.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • October 18, 2012
    ...in which a confession was obtained is often highly relevant to its reliability and credibility”); [698 F.3d 631]Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 153, 75 S.Ct. 194, 99 L.Ed. 192 (1954) (“[T]hough a statement may not be ‘involuntary’ ..., still its reliability may be suspect if it is ext......
  • Cook v. Nogan, Civ. No. 05-3916 (KM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • November 22, 2016
    ...supra, 124 N.J. at 251, 590 A.2d 1107 (quoting DiFrisco, supra, 118 N.J. at 273, 571 A.2d 914 (quoting Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 156, 75 S. Ct. 194, 199, 99 L. Ed. 192, 200-01 (1954))).]Our corroboration standard requires that the trial court "determine whether there is any lega......
  • Lufkins v. Leapley, No. 91-1697
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • June 24, 1992
    ...Nevertheless, an uncorroborated confession, standing alone, cannot provide the grounds to convict a defendant. Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 152, 75 S.Ct. 194, 197, 99 L.Ed. 192 (1954). But in cases where the existence of the crime has been established, the guilt of the accused may ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
574 cases
  • United States v. Poole, No. 72-1533.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 17, 1974
    ...is essential that it be corroborated, evidencing the care of the law not to sentence on the basis of a confession. Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 152-153, 75 S.Ct. 194, 99 L.Ed. 192 3 Among the decisions of the Supreme Court reflecting this are Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 6 ......
  • Harris v. Thompson, No. 12–1088.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • October 18, 2012
    ...in which a confession was obtained is often highly relevant to its reliability and credibility”); [698 F.3d 631]Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 153, 75 S.Ct. 194, 99 L.Ed. 192 (1954) (“[T]hough a statement may not be ‘involuntary’ ..., still its reliability may be suspect if it is ext......
  • Cook v. Nogan, Civ. No. 05-3916 (KM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • November 22, 2016
    ...supra, 124 N.J. at 251, 590 A.2d 1107 (quoting DiFrisco, supra, 118 N.J. at 273, 571 A.2d 914 (quoting Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 156, 75 S. Ct. 194, 199, 99 L. Ed. 192, 200-01 (1954))).]Our corroboration standard requires that the trial court "determine whether there is any......
  • Lufkins v. Leapley, No. 91-1697
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • June 24, 1992
    ...Nevertheless, an uncorroborated confession, standing alone, cannot provide the grounds to convict a defendant. Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 152, 75 S.Ct. 194, 197, 99 L.Ed. 192 (1954). But in cases where the existence of the crime has been established, the guilt of the accused may ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Warren Court - After Three Terms
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 9-4, December 1956
    • December 1, 1956
    ...U.S. 294 (1955).26 Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121 (1954); Friedberg v. United States, 348 U.S. 142 (1954); Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147 (1954); Sullivan v. United States, 348 U.S. 170 (1954); Sapir v. United States, 348 U.S. 373 (1955); and United States v. Bramblett, 348 U.......

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