Upshaw v. United States

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation93 L.Ed. 100,335 U.S. 410,69 S.Ct. 170
Docket NumberNo. 98,98
Decision Date13 December 1948

Mr. Joel D. Blackwell, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Robert S. Erdahl, of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was convicted of grand larceny in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and sentenced to serve sixteen months to four years in prison. Pre-trial confessions of guilt without which peti- tioner could not have been convicted1 were admitted in evidence against his objection that they had been illegally obtained. The confessions had been made during a 30-hour period while petitioner was held a prisoner after the police had arrested him on suspicion and without a warrant.

Petitioner's objection to the admissibility of the confessions rested on Rule 5(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A., and our holding in McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 63 S.Ct. 608, 87 L.Ed. 819. Rule 5(a) provides that 'An officer making an arrest * * * shall take the arrested person without unnecessary delay before the nearest available' committing magistrate and when the arrested person appears before the magistrate 'a complaint shall be filed forthwith.' Petitioner contended that the officers had violated this rule in detaining him as they did without taking him before a committing magistrate. In the McNabb case we held that confessions had been improperly admitted where they were the plain result of holding and interrogating persons without carrying them 'forthwith' before a committing magistrate as the law commands.

In this case the District Court thought that the NcNabb ruling did not apply because the detention of petitioner 'was not unreasonable under the circumstances as a matter of law.' Consequently, that court held the confessions admissible. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the United States attorney and his assistants detailed the circumstances of petitioner's arrest and detention and confessed error. They concluded from these detailed circumstances that the 'delay' in carrying petitioner before a committing magistrate 'was unreasonable and the urpose of it, as stated by the officers themselves, was only to furnish an opportunity for further interrogation.' Under these circumstances, the district attorney thought that the NcNabb rule made the confessions inadmissible without regard to whether they were 'voluntary' in the legal sense. The delay in taking petitioner before a judicial officer was thought, in the words of the district attorney, to have been 'for purposes inimical to the letter and spirit of the rule requiring prompt arraignment.'

The Court of Appeals rejected this confession of error, one judge dissenting. App.D.C., 168 F.2d 167. It read the McNabb case as explained in United States v. Mitchell, 322 U.S. 65, 64 S.Ct. 896, 88 L.Ed. 1140, as holding that 'A confession voluntarily given is admissible in evidence' while conversely 'a confession involuntarily made is inadmissible.' 168 F.2d 167. That court thought the McNabb case did no more than extend the meaning of 'involuntary' confessions to proscribe confessions induced by psychological coercion as well as those brought about by physical brutality. Finding no psychological coercion in the facts of this case, the court concluded that the confessions were not the 'fruit of the illegal detention.' The court also laid stress on the fact that the petitioner's detention unlike McNabb's, 'was not aggravated by continuous questioning for many hours by numerous officers.'

We hold that this case falls squarely within the McNabb ruling and is not taken out of it by what was decided in the Mitchell case. In the McNabb case (318 U.S. 332, 63 S.Ct. 614), we held that the plain purpose of the requirement that prisoners should promptly be taken before committing magistrates was to check resort by officers to 'secret interrogation of persons accused of crime.' We then pointed out the circumstances under which petitioners were interrogated and confessed. This was done to show that the record left no doubt that the McNabbs were not promptly taken before a judicial officer as the law required, but instead were held for secret questioning, and 'that the questioning of petitioners took place while they were in the custody of the arresting officers and before any commitment was made.' The NcNabb confessions were thus held inadmissible because the McNabbs were questioned while held in 'plain disregard of the duty enjoined by Congress upon Federal officers' promptly to take them before a judicial officer. In the McNabb case there were confessions 'induced by illegal detention,' United States v. Mitchell, supra, 322 U.S. at page 70, 64 S.Ct. at page 698, 88 L.Ed. 1140, a fact which this Court found did not exist in the Mitchell case.

In the Mitchell case although the defendant was illegally held eight days, the court accepted the record as showing that Mitchell promptly and spontaneously admitted his guilt within a few minutes after his arrival at the police station. Mitchell's confessions therefore were found to have been made before any illegal detention had occurred. This Court then stated in the Mitchell opinion that 'the illegality of Mitchell's detention does not retroactively change the circumstances under which he made the disclosures.' Thus the holding in the Mitchell case was only that Mitchell's subsequent illegal detention did not render inadmissible his prior confessions. They were held not to involve 'use by the Government of the fruits of wrongdoing by its officers.' The Mitchell case, 332 U.S. at page 68, 64 S.Ct. at page 898, however, reaffirms the McNabb rule that a confession is inadmissible if made during illegal detention due to failure promptly to carry a prisoner before a committing magistrate, whether or not the 'confession is the result of torture, physical or psychological * * *.'

In this case we are left in no doubt as to why this petitioner was not brought promptly before a committing magistrate. The arresting officer himself stated that petitioner was not carried before a magistrate on Friday or Saturday mo ning after his arrest on Friday at 2 a.m., because the officer thought there was 'not a sufficient case' for the court to hold him, adding that even 'if the police court did hold him we would lose custody of him and I no longer would be able to question him.' Thus the arresting officer in effect conceded that the confessions here were 'the fruits of wrongdoing' by the police officers. He conceded more: He admitted that petitioner was illegally detained for at least thirty hours for the very purpose of securing these challenged confessions. He thereby refutes any possibility of an argument that after arrest he was carried before a magistrate 'without unnecessary delay.'

The argument was made to the trial court that this method of arresting, holding, and questioning people on mere suspicion, was in accordance with the 'usual police procedure of questioning a suspect * * *.' However usual this practice, it is in violation of law, and confessions thus obtained are inadmissible under the McNabb rule. We adhere to that rule.2


Mr. Justice REED, with whom The CHIEF JUSTICE, Mr. Justice JACKSON and Mr. Justice BURTON join, dissenting.

When not inconsistent with a statute, or the Constitution, there is no doubt of the power of this Court to institute, on its own initiative, reforms in the federal practice as to the admissibility of evidence in criminal trials in federal courts.1 This power of reform, which existed at the time, March 1, 1943, McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 63 S.Ct. 608, 87 L.Ed. 819, was decided, is not, I believe, restricted by the language of Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, effective March 21, 1946. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure No. 59; 91 Cong.Rec. 12545. The admissibility of evidence, like the competency of witnesses, is 'governed by common law principles as interpreted and applied by the federal courts in the light of reason and experience.' Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 12, 54 S.Ct. 279, 78 L.Ed. 617.2 While judicial innovations explicitly expanding or contracting admissibility of evidence are rare there have been sufficient occasions to establish by precedent and legislative acceptance that the power exists. McNabb v. United States, supra, 318 U.S. at page 341, 63 S.Ct. at page 613, 87 L.Ed. 819.3

Such power should be used to change the established rules of evidence, however, only when 'fundamentally altered conditions,' note 2, supra, call for such a change in the interests of justice. Otherwise the bad results from a change of well-established rules are quite likely to outweigh the good. The lack of any necessity for changing the rules of evidence to protect an accused led me to dissent in the McNabb case, a murder case where an assumed failure to commit the prisoner apparently was relied upon as a partial basis for denying admissibility to certain confessions.

My objection to this Court's action of today in what seems to me an extension of the scope of nonadmissibility of confessions in the federal courts is not to its power so to act but to the advisability of such an additional step. Unless Congress or a majority of this Court modifies the McNabb rule, I feel bound to follow my understanding of its meaning in similar cases that may arise, but that duty does not impose upon me the obligation to accept this ruling as to Upshaw which seems to me to compound certain unfortunate results of the McNabb decision by extending it to circumstances beyond the scope of the McNabb ruling. This attitude leads me (I) to analyze the McNabb case and its offspring, (II) to point out why I think the present decision goes beyond the holding in McNabb and (III) to point out why McNabb should not be...

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