United States v. Fuller

Decision Date26 May 1965
Docket NumberCr. No. 898-64.
Citation243 F. Supp. 178
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. William H. FULLER, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

David Epstein, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., for the Government.

James K. Hughes, Washington, D. C., for defendant.

HOLTZOFF, District Judge.

During the trial of this case, in which the defendant, William H. Fuller, is charged with murder and rape, the Court has conducted a preliminary hearing on the questions of admissibility, first, of oral statements made by the defendant to a police officer at or about the time of his arrest; and, second, the admissibility of certain articles seized at the defendant's home pursuant to a search warrant. The two matters will be considered separately.

Counsel for the defendant raises two issues in respect to the admissibility of an oral statement or series of statements made by the defendant to the police officers at or about the time of his arrest. He interposes, first, the issue of voluntariness, and, second, the question of admissibility under the rule of the Mallory case (Mallory v. United States), 354 U.S. 449, 77 S.Ct. 1356, 1 L.Ed.2d 1479. These points are raised by appropriate objections. In view of the nature of the case and of possible vital importance of the evidence and its effect on the outcome of the trial, the Court held a full and elaborate hearing as to the circumstances under which the statements were made.

The Court will consider the two objections to the admissibility of statements separately, because the two are independent of each other and are governed by entirely different principles. The objection as to voluntariness is directed to the very foundation of justice, because a confession or a damaging statement obtained by coercion is abhorrent to the standards of modern Western civilization. Coercion is not to be limited merely to the use of physical violence against the person making the statement. It may comprehend mental or moral pressure of a kind that deprives the person, in whole or in part, of his free will and of his mental control.

The police officers involved in this case and the defendant both testified concerning the events that preceded the defendant's statements and the circumstances under which they were made. It is interesting to observe that there is very little difference in the two versions, except as to minor details, such as are always likely to be present when two or more persons give an account of the same episode.

The body of the deceased woman was found on the morning of August 17, 1964 in an alley in back of the 3900 block of 14th Street in this city. Officer Robert M. Boyd of the Homicide Squad of the Metropolitan Police Department responded to a call received by the Police Department, and, accompanied by Officer Alexander of the same Squad, arrived at the place where the body was found. He observed the corpse lying on its back in the rear of one of the buildings that was located facing 14th Street.

In addition to observing the body and having photographs taken by the Identification Bureau of the Police Department, the officers made a careful search of the vicinity. They found a number of articles strewn around the neighborhood. Among them was a woman's underclothes, a woman's boot, some black hair, a key, and a little red address book. These articles were scattered around the locality. The officers discovered that there appeared to be blood on the rear door of one of the shops and chipped off particles of wood from the door upon which the alleged blood stains were found. They gathered particles of paint that they scraped up from the rear of the same shop and that were observed on the concrete. They found a button which seemed to be missing from a dress that the deceased was wearing when her body was found.

Upon examining the little red address book they noticed the name William H. Fuller with an address written in it. They proceeded to that address, identified themselves to the occupant, who opened the door and who gave his name as Fuller. He stated that William H. Fuller was his son and that his son lived at that address with him. They ascertained from the father that William H. Fuller, the defendant, was employed by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission at an office located in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland.

They proceeded then to the Montgomery County police station in Silver Spring, Maryland, and secured the assistance of a Montgomery County police officer, who accompanied them to the office in Maryland where the defendant was said to be employed. Upon arrival at the office at about four p. m. the same afternoon, they identified themselves to the person in charge and stated that they wished to talk to Fuller. The latter was located and brought out to meet the officers. Officer Boyd testified that he told Fuller that they would like to talk to him concerning an incident that happened in the District of Columbia, that he did not have to talk if he did not want to, but that if he was willing to talk this interview could take place right there or at the Silver Spring police station. He chose the latter alternative. He was told that he was not under arrest.

He was then driven to the Silver Spring police station in an unmarked Police Department car, arriving there at about 4:15 p. m. The defendant's version is that the officers did not give him the option of being interviewed at his place of employment or at the police station, but that he was told that they wanted to talk to him at the police station. This minor difference is of no consequence, although the Court is impressed by what appears to be the more accurate memory for details exhibited by the police officers.

The defendant admits that he was not told that he was under arrest and, in fact, he never was told, he testified, that he was under arrest. He testified that he considered himself under arrest because he thought that he had to go wherever the police wanted him to go. Admittedly he was not handcuffed or under any restraint of any kind. Upon arrival at the Silver Spring, Maryland, police station at about 4:15 p. m. the local officer conducted Officers Boyd and Alexander and the defendant to a room upstairs, where they were left alone.

The officers questioned him for about ten minutes. In the course of the questioning the defendant identified the address book as his own, but denied any connection with the death of the deceased. He then asked what would happen to him if he admitted his guilt. He was informed that he would be arrested and that what he said would be used against him. He then admitted that he grabbed the woman. The officers informed him that he was then under arrest and that anything he said thereafter would be used against him. According to Officer Boyd about ten minutes elapsed before the defendant made the initial admission. He then made a detailed oral confession that took about fifteen or twenty minutes more.

The officer testified that until the admission was made there was no probable cause to arrest the defendant. It is conceivable that he might have proved to have been just a witness or a source of information. The moment he made the damaging admission probable cause came into existence.

The defendant gave his version of the interview, which does not differ in any significant detail from that given by Officer Boyd, except that he thought that the first part of the interview lasted fifteen or twenty minutes instead of ten minutes, as the officer testified. The defendant further testified that the officer said to him that it would be easier for him if he told them what had happened. He also was told, so he testified, that he could be sentenced to life imprisonment or possibly to the electric chair. While he was apprised of his right not to answer any questions and not to say anything, as well as of the fact that anything he said might be used against him, he was not advised that he had a right to a lawyer at that time. He admits, however, that he never asked for a lawyer.

The defendant testified that he told the officers that he had a bad headache and that one of them asked him if he wanted an aspirin. Upon receiving an affirmative reply one of the officers gave the defendant two aspirin tablets. There is no claim that any violence was used or any threat exerted. There is even no contention that any discourteous language was used or any forceful tone of voice employed. The conversation on both sides was courteous and calm. No inducement was exerted by the officers. The officers may be said to have conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion.

The Court finds, therefore, that the statement or statements made by the defendant to the officers at the Silver Spring police station were entirely voluntary and the objection based on the ground of alleged involuntariness is hereby overruled.

We now reach the question whether the evidence was rendered inadmissible by the rule enunciated by the Supreme Court in the Mallory case, to which reference has been made. That rule is not based on any question as to whether the damaging statement was voluntary. It is not founded on any fundamental principles of substantial justice. It is merely a sanction or a means of enforcement of Rule 5(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which requires an officer making an arrest to take the arrested person, without unnecessary delay, before the nearest available commissioner or before any other nearby officer empowered to commit persons charged with offenses against the laws of the United States. The rule of the Mallory case is that if there is such unnecessary delay, then any damaging or incriminating statement made by the prisoner during the period of unnecessary delay is not admissible in evidence against him.

The vital and crucial words are "without...

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4 cases
  • Johnson v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • April 6, 1978
    ...judge surveyed cases within the District of Columbia circuit and found them to be in irreconcilable conflict. See United States v. Fuller, 243 F.Supp. 178 (D.D.C.1965), aff'd 407 F.2d 1199 (D.C. Cir. 1967), aff'd on rehearing (1968), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1120, 89 S.Ct. 999, 22 L.Ed.2d 125......
  • Fuller v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • November 20, 1967
    ...of the second count. A motion for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict on the rape count was denied. United States v. Fuller, 243 F.Supp. 203 (D.D.C.1965). Concurrent with a life sentence for the felony-murder, he has been sentenced to 5-to-15 and 10-to-30 years respectively ......
  • United States v. Luros
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • June 29, 1965
  • United States v. Fuller
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • June 15, 1965
    ...to the defendant and the circumstances of the confession are recounted in a prior opinion of this Court in this case, rendered on May 26, 1965, 243 F. Supp. 178. ...

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