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Bruton v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

March 11, 1968, Argued ; May 20, 1968, Decided

No. 705

Opinion

 [*123]   [***478]   [**1621]  MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question, last considered in Delli Paoli v. United States, 352 U.S. 232, whether the conviction of a defendant at a joint trial should be set aside  [*124]  although the jury was instructed that a codefendant's confession inculpating the defendant had to be disregarded in determining his guilt or innocence.

  [****3] 

A joint trial of petitioner and one Evans in the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri resulted in the conviction of both by a jury on a federal charge of armed postal robbery, 18 U. S. C. § 2114. A postal inspector testified that Evans orally confessed to him that Evans and petitioner committed the armed robbery.  The postal inspector obtained the oral confession, and another in which Evans admitted he had an accomplice whom he would not name, in the course of two interrogations of Evans at the city jail in St. Louis, Missouri, where Evans was held in custody on state criminal charges. Both petitioner and Evans appealed their convictions to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That court set aside Evans' conviction on the ground that his oral confessions to the postal inspector should not have been received in evidence against him. 375 F.2d 355, 361. 1 [****6]  However,  [**1622]  the court, relying upon Delli  [*125]  Paoli, affirmed petitioner's conviction because the trial judge instructed the jury that although Evans' confession was competent evidence against Evans it was inadmissible hearsay against petitioner [****4]  and therefore had to be disregarded in determining petitioner's guilt or innocence. 375 F.2d, at 361-363. 2  [***479]  We granted certiorari to reconsider Delli Paoli. 389 U.S. 818. The Solicitor General has since submitted a memorandum stating that "in the light of the record in this particular case and in the interests of justice, the judgment below should be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial." The Solicitor General states that this disposition is urged in part because "here it has been determined that the confession was wrongly admitted against [Evans] and his conviction has been reversed, leading to a new trial at which he was  [*126]  acquitted. To argue, in this situation, that [petitioner's] conviction should nevertheless stand may be to place too great a strain upon the [Delli Paoli] rule -- at least, where, as here, the other evidence against [petitioner] is not strong." We have concluded, however, that Delli Paoli should be overruled. We hold that, ] because of the substantial risk that the jury, despite instructions to the contrary, looked to the incriminating extrajudicial statements in determining petitioner's [****5]  guilt, admission of Evans' confession in this joint trial violated petitioner's right of cross-examination secured by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. We therefore overrule Delli Paoli and reverse.

 [****7]   The basic premise of Delli Paoli was 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 in committing the crime. 352 U.S., at 239.If it were true that the jury disregarded the reference to the codefendant, no question would arise under the Confrontation Clause, because by hypothesis the case is treated as if the confessor made no statement inculpating the nonconfessor. But since Delli Paoli was decided this Court has effectively  [**1623]  repudiated its basic premise.  Before discussing this, we pause to observe that in Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, we confirmed "that the right of cross-examination is included in the right of an accused in a criminal case to confront the witnesses against him" secured by the Sixth Amendment, id., at 404;  [****8]  ] "a major  [***480]  reason underlying the constitutional confrontation rule is to give a defendant charged with crime an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him." Id., at 406-407.

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391 U.S. 123 *; 88 S. Ct. 1620 **; 20 L. Ed. 2d 476 ***; 1968 U.S. LEXIS 1630 ****

BRUTON v. UNITED STATES

Prior History:  [****1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition:  375 F.2d 355, reversed.

CORE TERMS

confession, hearsay, codefendant, cross-examination, inadmissible, guilt, limit instruction, instructions, implicating, joint trial, inculpating, innocence, codefendant's confession, declarant, unreliable, deletion, reliable, inadmissible hearsay, witnesses, juries, involuntary confession, postal inspector, disregarded, courts, guilt of the defendant, basic premise, trial judge, circumstances, confrontation, out-of-court

Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Examination of Witnesses, Admission of Codefendant Statements, Defendant's Rights, Right to Confrontation, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Preliminary Proceedings, Discovery & Inspection, In Camera Inspections, Accusatory Instruments, Joinder & Severance, General Overview, Joinder of Defendants, Defective Joinder & Severance, Severance by Prosecutor, Severance of Codefendants, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Error, Civil Procedure, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Cross-Examination, Limiting Instructions, Particular Instructions, Adverse Inferences, Evidence, Admissibility, Procedural Matters, Limited Admissibility, Appeals, Reversible Error, Right to Fair Trial, Use of Particular Evidence, Definition of Harmless & Invited Error