State v. Gray, 15

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation687 A.2d 660,344 Md. 417
Docket NumberNo. 15,15
PartiesSTATE of Maryland v. Kevin D. GRAY. ,
Decision Date01 September 1996

Rachel Marblestone Kamins, Assistant Attorney General (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General, on brief), Baltimore, for Petitioner.

Arthur A. DeLano, Jr., Assistant Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), Baltimore, for Respondent.

Argued before BELL, C.J., ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, KARWACKI and RAKER, JJ., and ROBERT C. MURPHY, J. (Retired, Specially Assigned).

KARWACKI, Judge.

The issue presented in this case is whether the introduction of a nontestifying codefendant's confession implicating a defendant and others, which is redacted to exclude the names of all those involved in the crime, other than the confessor, by using the words "deleted" and "deletion," violates a defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, even if the jury is instructed to consider the confession only against the codefendant-confessor? We shall hold that under the circumstances in this case it does not and reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.

I.

Stacey Williams was beaten on November 10, 1993, by a group of six young men. Within a few hours, Williams died from his injuries. Following a preliminary investigation, the police arrested Anthony Bell. In a written statement to police, Bell implicated himself, Jacquin Vanlandingham, and Kevin Domonic Gray, the Petitioner, as participants in the beating. Vanlandingham was fatally shot two days after Williams' death, 1 and Gray was arrested one day later. These three individuals were the only ones identified by name in Bell's statement to police as those involved in the murder, although evidence adduced at trial suggested that as many as six persons participated in the attack on Williams.

Bell and Gray were scheduled to be tried jointly in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Prior to trial, however, Gray moved to sever his trial from Bell's, or alternatively to exclude his confession from evidence. The trial court denied both motions but ordered the redaction of Gray and Vanlandingham's names from Bell's confession.

At trial, the State presented the testimony of Tracy Brumfield, Shay Yarberough, and Baltimore City Homicide Detective Homer Pennington. Brumfield testified that she saw Gray, Vanlandingham, and several others chase Williams down the street. Yarberough, the only witness to Williams' beating, testified that he saw Vanlandingham lift Williams over his head and drop him on the sidewalk. Yarberough also testified that Gray attempted the same maneuver, albeit less successfully, and, along with the other five members of the group, including Bell, repeatedly kicked Williams about the ribs, neck, and head.

Detective Pennington testified that his investigation led him to arrest and interview Bell. In the course of that interview, Bell formally confessed to participating in the beating of Williams, implicating both Gray and Vanlandingham in the process.

The State was permitted to read Bell's confession into evidence over his objection, but, as indicated, supra, was concomitantly required to redact the names of Gray and Vanlandingham, and insert in their place, the words "deletion" or "deleted." A copy of the redacted confession was admitted into evidence with blank white spaces indicating where the names of Gray and Vanlandingham had been.

Unlike Bell, Gray testified in his own defense, claiming that he was speaking with his girlfriend on a public telephone when the fray ensued. Chanel Brown, Gray's girlfriend, testified that he had called her from a telephone booth and, during that conversation, said that Vanlandingham was fighting. Defense witness Lamont Mathews testified that although he had witnessed Williams' beating, he placed Gray at a telephone booth "up the street" during the melee. The jury nonetheless convicted Gray of involuntary manslaughter, for which he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment with all but seven years suspended.

Gray appealed that judgment to the Court of Special Appeals, claiming that the introduction of Bell's redacted confession violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, and was contrary to the holding in Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 20 L.Ed.2d 476 (1968). The intermediate appellate court agreed and reversed Gray's conviction. Gray v. State, 107 Md.App. 311, 667 A.2d 983 (1995). We granted the State's Petition for a Writ of Certiorari.

II.

In the trial of every criminal case, state or federal, a defendant has the right "to be confronted with witnesses against him." U.S. Const. amend. VI; Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 403, 85 S.Ct. 1065, 1068, 13 L.Ed.2d 923, 926 (1965)(Sixth Amendment made applicable to states through Fourteenth Amendment); Smallwood v. State, 320 Md. 300, 306, 577 A.2d 356, 359 (1990); Harris v. State, 306 Md. 344, 361, 509 A.2d 120, 128 (1986). Implicit in this principle is the right to cross-examine those witnesses. Pointer, 380 U.S. at 406-07, 85 S.Ct. at 1069-70, 13 L.Ed.2d at 928; Smallwood, 320 Md. at 306, 577 A.2d at 359.

In Bruton v. United States, supra, the United States Supreme Court held that the admission of a nontestifying codefendant's pretrial confession implicating another codefendant by name, violated that defendant's Sixth Amendment confrontation right, notwithstanding an instruction to the jury to disregard the confession in determining the nonconfessing defendant's guilt. 2 Bruton was tried and convicted along with one Evans, who, during the preceding investigation, orally confessed to a postal inspector that he and Bruton perpetrated an armed postal robbery. The postal inspector subsequently testified to Evans' confession. The trial judge duly instructed the jury that the confession was competent evidence against Evans only and was not to be used in assessing Bruton's innocence or guilt. 3 The Supreme Court nevertheless reversed Bruton's conviction.

In so doing, the Court repudiated its previous position that " 'it is reasonably possible for the jury to follow' sufficiently clear instructions to disregard the confessor's extrajudicial statement that his codefendant participated with him committing the crime." Bruton, 391 U.S. at 126, 88 S.Ct. at 1622, 20 L.Ed.2d at 479 (quoting Delli Paoli v. United States, 352 U.S. 232, 239, 77 S.Ct. 294, 299, 1 L.Ed.2d 278, 284 (1957)). The reason for the departure, articulated initially by the Delli Paoli dissent, was that:

"too often such admonition against misuse [of a codefendant's confession] is intrinsically ineffective in that the effect of such a nonadmissible declaration cannot be wiped from the brains of the jurors. The admonition therefore becomes a futile collection of words and fails of its purpose as a legal protection to defendants.... The Government should not have the windfall of the jury being influenced by evidence against a defendant which, as a matter of law, they should not consider but which they cannot put out of their minds."

352 U.S. at 247-48, 77 S.Ct. at 302, 1 L.Ed.2d at 288 (Frankfurter, J., dissenting).

The Court acknowledged three arguments supporting the use of limiting instructions in this area, namely the probative value of the confession, judicial economy, and the integrity of the jury system itself, but categorically rejected the first two. While the confession may be the best evidence of the confessor's guilt, alternative ways exist to allow the State the benefit of the confession without infringing upon the nonconfessing defendant's constitutional rights. Bruton, 391 U.S. at 133-34, 88 S.Ct. at 1626, 20 L.Ed.2d at 483-84. The use of redactions is but one example. Id. at 134 n. 10, 88 S.Ct. at 1627 n. 10, 20 L.Ed.2d at 484 n. 10.

Similarly, joint trials conserve state resources by avoiding the necessity of duplicate proceedings, reduce inconveniences to witnesses, and accelerate the judicial process. Id. at 134, 88 S.Ct. at 1627, 20 L.Ed.2d at 484. Nevertheless, fundamental constitutional rights, such as the right of confrontation, are seldom sacrificed upon the altar of judicial efficiency. Id. at 135, 88 S.Ct. at 1627, 20 L.Ed.2d at 484.

Turning to the third argument in support of limiting instructions, the Court acknowledged that inadmissible evidence inevitably finds its way before the jury, but that reliance on the jury's ability to perform its role is justified under many circumstances. Id., at 135, 88 S.Ct. at 1627, 20 L.Ed.2d at 484. In those instances, "[i]t is not unreasonable to conclude ... [that] the jury can and will follow the trial judge's instructions to disregard such information." Id., at 135, 88 S.Ct. at 1627, 20 L.Ed.2d at 484-85. When, however,

"the powerfully incriminating extrajudicial statements of a codefendant who stands side-by-side with the defendant, are deliberately spread before the jury in a joint trial ... the risk that the jury will not, or cannot, follow instructions is so great, and the consequences of failure [are] so vital to the defendant, that the practical and human limitations of the jury system cannot be ignored."

Id. at 135-36, 88 S.Ct. at 1627, 20 L.Ed.2d at 485. The Court concluded that: "despite the concededly clear instructions to the jury to disregard Evans' inadmissible hearsay evidence inculpating [Bruton], in the context of a joint trial, we cannot accept limiting instructions as an adequate substitute for [Bruton's] constitutional right of cross examination.... The effect is the same as if there had been no instruction at all."

Id. at 137, 88 S.Ct. at 1628, 20 L.Ed.2d at 485-86.

III.

Nineteen years later in Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 107 S.Ct. 1702, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987), the practice of omitting any references to a defendant from a statement being introduced against a confessing codefendant was challenged--a practice initially suggested by the Court itself. See, ...

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