Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, No. 127

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRANDEIS
Citation69 L.Ed. 131,266 U.S. 1,45 S.Ct. 1
PartiesZIANG SUNG WAN v. UNITED STATES
Docket NumberNo. 127
Decision Date13 October 1924

266 U.S. 1
45 S.Ct. 1
69 L.Ed. 131
ZIANG SUNG WAN

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 127.
Argued April 7, 8, 1924.
Decided Oct. 13, 1924.

Page 2

Messrs. Wm. C. Dennis, Frederic D. McKenney, James A. O'Shea, Charles Fahy, and John W. Davis, all of Washington, D. C., for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 2-3 intentionally omitted]

Page 4

The Attorney General and Mr. Peyton Gordon, of Washington, D. C., for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 4-8 intentionally omitted]

Page 8

Mr. Justice BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

On January 31, 1919, the police department of the District of Columbia learned that three Chinamen, the inmates of a house in Washington occupied by the Chinese Educational Mission, had been murdered. They were known to have been alive late in the evening of January 29. Police officers were told by Li, a student, that, earlier on the same evening, he had seen at the Mission a resident of New York City named Wan. Acting under instructions of the superintendent of police, two detectives started immediately for New York, taking Li with them. On February 1, they entered Wan's room in a lodging house, found him there, and brought him to Washington. He was not formally arrested until February 9. Later,

Page 9

he was indicted, in the Supreme Court of the District, for the murder of one of the Chinamen; was found guilty; and was sentenced to be hanged. The Court of Appeals of the District affirmed the judgment. 289 F. 908, 53 App. D. C. 250. A writ of certiorari was granted. 263 U. S. 693, 44 S. Ct. 34, 68 L. Ed. 509.

The main question for decision1 is whether, on the facts disclosed in the testimony of the superintendent of police, three detectives and the chief medical officer of the jail, the trial court erred in admitting as evidence statements made by the defendant to the police officers before and shortly after his formal arrest.2 Four of the statements were oral. These, if admissible, were important evidence. The fifth was a stenographic report of an interrogation of the defendant conducted by the detectives, after the arrest. This report contained a full confession. The introduction of each of the statements was duly objected to on the ground that the government failed to show that it had been voluntarily made and that from the testimony of its own witnesses the contrary appeared. The court admitted the statements. It later charged the jury:

'The test of the case, and the inquiry that you will have to

Page 10

make in answer is, Did the questioning, did the physical condition, did the importunate questioning, if you choose to call it so, render the confession made by the defendant not his own; but did it substitute for his will the will of another, and thus was it or not his voluntary act?'

Wan was a native of China. He had come to the United States in 1916, at the age of 22, as a student. In 1918, he engaged in a business which proved unsuccessful. Since December of that year, or earlier, his health had been bad. He had an attack of Spanish influenza. He suffered continuously from a chronic stomach trouble which led him to eat sparingly and irregularly. When the detectives entered his room unannounced they found him in bed. They had no search warrant; but they made a search of the room and his effects, including the bed in which he lay. They were accompanied by a New York police officer; but they did not arrest Wan. They requested that he return with them to Washington. He told them he was too sick. Li, who had been left waiting outside the closed door and was called in, told Wan that both of them were suspected of the murder. Then, Wan consented to go with the detectives to Washington.

On arrival in Washington, Wan was not put formally under arrest; but he was taken to a secluded room. In the presence of three detectives, the superintendent of police, and Li, he was subjected there to questioning for five or six hours. Late in the evening of that first day, the detectives took him to Hotel Dewey; and, without entering his name in the hotel registry, placed him in a bedroom on an upper floor. In that room he was detained continuously one week. Throughout the period, he was sick and, most of the time, in bed. A physician was repeatedly called. It was a police surgeon who came. In vain Wan asked to see his brother, with whom he lived in New York, who had nursed him in his illness, who had come to Washington at his request in January, who had returned with

Page 11

him to New York, and whom, as he later learned, the detectives had also brought to Washington, were detaining in another room of the hotel, and were subjecting to like interrogation.

Wan was held in the hotel room without formal arrest, incommunicado. But he was not left alone. Every moment of the day, and of the night, at least one member of the police force was on guard inside his room. Three ordinary policemen were assigned to this duty. Each served eight hours; the shifts beginning at midnight, at 8 in the morning, and at 4 in the afternoon. Morning, afternoon, and evening (and at least on one occasion after midnight) the prisoner was visited by the superintendent of police and/or one or more of the detectives. The sole purpose of these visits was to interrogate him. Regardless of Wan's wishes and protest, his condition of health, or the hour, they engaged him in conversation. He was subjected to persistent, lengthy, and repeated cross-examination. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes severe. Always the examination was conducted with a view to entrapping Wan into a confession of his own guilt and/or that of his brother. Whenever these visitors entered the room, the guard was stationed outside the closed door.

On the eighth day, the accusatory questioning took a more excruciating form. A detective was in attendance throughout the day. In the evening, Wan was taken from Hotel Dewey to the Mission. There, continuously for ten hours, this sick man was led from floor to floor minutely to examine and re-examine the scene of the triple murder and every object connected with it, to give explanations, and to answer questions. The places where the dead men were discovered; the revolver with which presumably the murder was committed, the blood stains and the finger prints thereon; the bullet holes in the walls; the discharged cartridges found upon the floor; the clothes of the murdered men; the blood stains on the

Page 12

floor and the stairs; a bloody handkerchief; the coat and pillow which had been found covering the dead men's faces; photographs, taken by the police, of the men as they lay dead; the doors and windows through which the murderer might have entered or made his escape; photostat copies of writings, by means of which it was sought to prove that Wan was implicated in a forgery incident to the murder; all these were shown him. Every supposed fact ascertained by the detectives in the course of their investigation was related to him. Concerning every object, every incident detailed, he was, in the presence of a stenographer, plied with questions by the superintendent of police and the detectives. By these he was engaged in argument; sometimes separately, sometimes in joint attack. The process of interrogation became ever more insistent. In passed at times from inquiry into command. From 7 o'clock in the evening until 5 o'clock in the morning the questioning continued. Before it was concluded, Li, who was again in attendance, had left the Mission about midnight, worn out by the long hours. The superintendent of police had returned to his home, apparently exhausted. One of the detectives had fallen asleep. To Wan, not a moment of sleep was allowed.

On the ninth day, at 20 minutes past 5 in the morning, Wan was taken from the Mission to the station house and placed formally under arrest. There the interrogation was promptly resumed. Again the detectives were in attendance, day and evening, plying their questions, pointing out alleged contradictions, arguing with the prisoner, and urging him to confess, lest his brother be deemed guilty of the crime. Still the statements secured failed to satisfy the detectives' craving for evidence. On the tenth day, Wan was 'bundled up,' was again taken to the...

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166 practice notes
  • Corley v. United States, No. 07–10441.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 6, 2009
    ...895, 40 L.Ed. 1090 (1896) )); Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U.S. 596, 602, 64 S.Ct. 1208, 88 L.Ed. 1481 (1944) ; Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U.S. 1, 15, 45 S.Ct. 1, 69 L.Ed. 131 (1924) ; Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 545, 18 S.Ct. 183, 42 L.Ed. 568 (1897). In making these statement......
  • Wood v. United States, No. 7863.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 9, 1942
    ...remanded. --------Notes: 1 Cf. note 13 infra. 2 8 Wigmore, Evidence, 3d Ed.1940, § 2266, at 387. 3 Ziang Sun Wan v. United States, 1924, 266 U.S. 1, 14, 45 S.Ct. 1, 69 L.Ed. 131, and authorities cited; Hardy v. United States, 1893, 3 App.D.C. 35, 48; Wagner v. United States, 5 Cir., 1940, 1......
  • State v. Newsome, (No. 74.)
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • May 9, 1928
    ...are not. A confession is voluntary in law when, and only when, it was in fact voluntarily made. Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U. S. 1, 45 S. Ct, 1, 69 L. Ed. 131. The voluntariness of a confession is a preliminary question to be determined by the judge in passing upon its competency ......
  • Miranda v. State, No. 759
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • October 10, 1966
    ...Justice Brandeis wrote for a unanimous Court in reversing a conviction resting on a compelled confession, Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U.S. 1, 45 S.Ct. 1, 69 L.Ed. 131. He stated:'In the federal courts, the requisite of voluntariness is not satisfied by establishing merely that the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
164 cases
  • Corley v. United States, No. 07–10441.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 6, 2009
    ...895, 40 L.Ed. 1090 (1896) )); Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U.S. 596, 602, 64 S.Ct. 1208, 88 L.Ed. 1481 (1944) ; Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U.S. 1, 15, 45 S.Ct. 1, 69 L.Ed. 131 (1924) ; Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 545, 18 S.Ct. 183, 42 L.Ed. 568 (1897). In making these statement......
  • Wood v. United States, No. 7863.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 9, 1942
    ...remanded. --------Notes: 1 Cf. note 13 infra. 2 8 Wigmore, Evidence, 3d Ed.1940, § 2266, at 387. 3 Ziang Sun Wan v. United States, 1924, 266 U.S. 1, 14, 45 S.Ct. 1, 69 L.Ed. 131, and authorities cited; Hardy v. United States, 1893, 3 App.D.C. 35, 48; Wagner v. United States, 5 Cir., 1940, 1......
  • State v. Newsome, (No. 74.)
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • May 9, 1928
    ...are not. A confession is voluntary in law when, and only when, it was in fact voluntarily made. Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U. S. 1, 45 S. Ct, 1, 69 L. Ed. 131. The voluntariness of a confession is a preliminary question to be determined by the judge in passing upon its competency ......
  • Miranda v. State, No. 759
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • October 10, 1966
    ...Justice Brandeis wrote for a unanimous Court in reversing a conviction resting on a compelled confession, Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U.S. 1, 45 S.Ct. 1, 69 L.Ed. 131. He stated:'In the federal courts, the requisite of voluntariness is not satisfied by establishing merely that the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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