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Ziang Sung Wan v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued April 7, 8, 1924 ; October 13, 1924

No. 127


 [*8]   [**1]  MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

On January 31, 1919, the police department of the District of Columbia learned that three [***13]  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,  [*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 Fed. 908. A writ of certiorari was granted. 263 U.S. 693.

The main question for decision 1 [***15]  is whether,  [**2]  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 [***14]  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  [*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 twenty-two, 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 [***16]  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.

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266 U.S. 1 *; 45 S. Ct. 1 **; 1924 U.S. LEXIS 3022 ***; 69 L. Ed. 131




confession, questions, talked, interrogation, murder, evening, arrest, hotel, morning, station, floor, sick

Criminal Law & Procedure, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Interrogation, Voluntariness