Washington v. State of Texas, No. 649

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWARREN
Citation388 U.S. 14,18 L.Ed.2d 1019,87 S.Ct. 1920
PartiesJackie WASHINGTON, Petitioner, v. STATE OF TEXAS
Docket NumberNo. 649
Decision Date12 June 1967

388 U.S. 14
87 S.Ct. 1920
18 L.Ed.2d 1019
Jackie WASHINGTON, Petitioner,

v.

STATE OF TEXAS.

No. 649.
Argued March 15 and 16, 1967.
Decided June 12, 1967.

Charles W. Tessmer, Dallas, Tex., for petitioner.

Howard M. Fender, Austin, Tex., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whther the right of a defendant in a criminal case under the

Page 15

Sixth Amendment1 to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment,2 and whether that right wasvi olated by a state procedural statute providing that persons charged as principals, accomplices, or accessories in the same crime cannot be introduced as witnesses for each other.

Petitioner, Jackie Washington, was convicted in Dallas County, Texas, of murder with malice and was sentenced by a jury to 50 years in prison. The prosecution's evidence showed that petitioner, an 18-year-old youth, had dated a girl named Jean Carter until her mother had forbidden her to see him. The girl thereafter began dating another boy, the deceased. Evidently motivated by jealousy, petitioner with several other boys began driving around the City of Dallas on the night of August 29, 1964, looking for a gun. The search eventually led to one Charles Fuller, who joined the group with his shotgun. After obtaining some shells from another source, the group of boys proceeded to Jean Carter's home, where Jean, her family and the deceased were having supper. Some of the boys threw bricks at the house and then ran back to the car, leaving petitioner and Fuller alone in front of the house with the shotgun. At the sound of the bricks the deceased and Jean Carter's mother rushed out on the porch to investigate. The shotgun was fired by either petitioner or Fuller, and the

Page 16

deceased was fatally wounded. Shortly afterward petitioner and Fuller came running back to the car where the other boys waited, with Fuller carrying the shotgun.

Petitioner testified in his own behalf. He claimed that Fuller, who was intoxicated, had taken the gun from him, and that he had unsuccessfully tried to persuade Fuller to leave before the shooting. Fuller had insisted that he was going to shoot someone, and petitioner had run back to the automobile. He saw the girl's mother come out of the door as he began running, and he subsequently heard the shot. At the time, he had thought that Fuller had shot the woman. In support of his version of the facts, petitioner offered the testimony of Fuller. The record indicates that Fuller would have testified that petitioner pulled at him and tried to persuade him to leave, and that petitioner ran before Fuller fired the fatal shot.

It is undisputed that Fuller's testimony would have been relevant and material, and that it was vital to the defense. Fuller was the only person other than petitioner who knew exactly who had fired the shotgun and whether petitioner had at the last minute attempted to prevent the shooting. Fuller, however, had been previously convicted of the same murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison,3 and he was confined in the Dallas County jail. Two Texas statutes provided at the time of the trial in this case that persons charged or convicted as coparticipants in the same crime could not testify for one another,4 although there was no bar to their testi-

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fying for the State. 5 On the basis of these statutes the trial judge sustained the State's objection and refused to allow Fuller to testify. Petitioner's conviction followed, and it was upheld on appeal by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 400 S.W.2d 756. We granted certiorari. 385 U.S. 812, 87 S.Ct. 123, 17 L.Ed.2d 54. We reverse.

I.

We have not previously been called upon to decide whether the right of an accused to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, guaranteed in federal trials by the Sixth Amendment, is so fundamental and essential to a fair trial that it is incorporated in the

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Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.6 At one time, it was thought that the Sixth Amendment had no application to state criminal trials.7 That view no longer prevails, and in recent years we have increasingly looked to the specific guarantees of the Sixth Amendment to determine whether a state criminal trial was conducted with due process of law. We have held that due process requires that the accused have the assistance of counsel for his defense,8 that he be confronted with the witnesses against him,9 and that he have the right to a speedy10 and public11 trial.

The right of an accused to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor stands on no lesser footing than the other Sixth Amendment rights that we have previously held applicable to the States. This Court had occasion in In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 68 S.Ct. 499, 92 L.Ed. 682 (1948), to describe what it regarded as the most basic ingredients of due process of law. It observed that:

'A person's right to reasonable notice of a charge against him, and an opportunity to be heard in his defense—a right to his day in court—are basic in our system of jurisprudence; and these rights include, as a minimum, a right to examine the witnesses against him, to offer testimony, and to be represented by couse l.' 333 U.S., at 273, 68 S.Ct. at 507 (footnote omitted).

Page 19

The right to offer the testimony of witnesses, and to compel their attendance, if necessary, is in plain terms the right to present a defense, the right to present the defendant's version of the facts as well as the prosecution's to the jury so it may decide where the truth lies. Just as an accused has the right to confront the prosecution's witnesses for the purpose of challenging their testimony, he has the right to present his own witnesses to establish a defense. This right is a fundamental element of due process of law.

II.

Since the right to compulsory process is applicable in this state proceeding, the question remains whether it was violated in the circumstances of this case. The testimony of Charles Fuller was denied to the defense not because the State refused to compel his attendance, but because a state statute made his testimony inadmissible whether he was present in the courtroom or not. We are thus called upon to decide whether the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right under any circumstances to put his witnesses on the stand, as well as the right to compel their attendance in court. The resolution of this question requires some discussion of the common-law context in which the Sixth Amendment was adopted.

Joseph Story, in his famous Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, observed that the right to compulsory process was included in the Bill of Rights in reaction to the notorious common-law rule that in cases of treason or felony the accused was not allowed to introduce witnesses in his defense at all.12 Although

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the absolute prohibition of witnesses for the defense had been abolished in England by statute before 1787,13 the Framers of the Constitution felt it necessary specifically to provide that defendants in criminal cases should be provided the means of obtaining witnesses so that their own evidence, as well as the prosecution's, might be evaluated by the jury.

Despite the abolition of the rule generally disqualifying defense witnesses, the common law retained a number of restrictions on witnesses who were physically and mentally capable of testifying. To the extent that they were applicable, they had the same effect of suppressing the truth that the general proscription had had. Defendants and codefendants were among the large class of witnesses disqualified from testifying on the ground of interest.14 A party to a civil or criminal case was not allowed to testify on his own behalf for fear that he might be tempted to lie. Although originally the disqualification of a codefendant appears to have been based only on his status as a party to the action, and in some jurisdictions co-indictees were allowed to testify for or against each other if granted separate trials,...

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3296 practice notes
  • Allen v. Howes, Case No. 05-10304.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • February 25, 2009
    ...the accused has the right at trial to present testimony that is "relevant," "material," and "vital to the defense." Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 23, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967); see also Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683, 690, 106 S.Ct. 2142, 90 L.Ed.2d 636 (1986) ("Whether roo......
  • Young v. Conway, No. 07–CV–6047(VEB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • January 27, 2011
    ...would be relevant and material to his defense.” Singleton v. Lefkowitz, 583 F.2d 618, 623 (2d Cir.1978) (citing Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 23, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967)), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 929, 99 S.Ct. 1266, 59 L.Ed.2d 486 (1979). When Young raised this claim in his......
  • Barresi v. Maloney, No. CIV.A. 00-10403-EFH.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • July 24, 2003
    ...a defendant's right "to present his own witnesses to establish a defense." DiBenedetto, 176 F.Supp.2d at 56 (quoting Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 19, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967)). Accordingly, the Court analyzes the trial court's exclusion of the expert witness in light of co......
  • Pike v. Guarino, No. 06-1019.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • July 2, 2007
    ...S.Ct. 2142, 90 L.Ed.2d 636 (1986); Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 302, 93 S.Ct. 1038, 35 L.Ed.2d 297 (1973); Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 18-19, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967). But these cases are not directly applicable; the petitioner's right to present the battered wo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3287 cases
  • Allen v. Howes, Case No. 05-10304.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • February 25, 2009
    ...the accused has the right at trial to present testimony that is "relevant," "material," and "vital to the defense." Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 23, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967); see also Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683, 690, 106 S.Ct. 2142, 90 L.Ed.2d 636 (1986) ("Whether roo......
  • Young v. Conway, No. 07–CV–6047(VEB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • January 27, 2011
    ...would be relevant and material to his defense.” Singleton v. Lefkowitz, 583 F.2d 618, 623 (2d Cir.1978) (citing Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 23, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967)), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 929, 99 S.Ct. 1266, 59 L.Ed.2d 486 (1979). When Young raised this claim in his......
  • Barresi v. Maloney, No. CIV.A. 00-10403-EFH.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • July 24, 2003
    ...a defendant's right "to present his own witnesses to establish a defense." DiBenedetto, 176 F.Supp.2d at 56 (quoting Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 19, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967)). Accordingly, the Court analyzes the trial court's exclusion of the expert witness in light of co......
  • Pike v. Guarino, No. 06-1019.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • July 2, 2007
    ...S.Ct. 2142, 90 L.Ed.2d 636 (1986); Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 302, 93 S.Ct. 1038, 35 L.Ed.2d 297 (1973); Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 18-19, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967). But these cases are not directly applicable; the petitioner's right to present the battered wo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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