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Law School Case Brief

Cruz v. New York - 481 U.S. 186, 107 S. Ct. 1714 (1987)

Rule:

Where a nontestifying codefendant's confession incriminating the defendant is not directly admissible against the defendant, the Confrontation Clause bars its admission at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed not to consider it against the defendant, and even if the defendant's own confession is admitted against him. 

Facts:

In Bruton v United States (1968) 391 US 123, 20 L Ed 2d 476, 88 S Ct 1620, the United States Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant is deprived of his rights, under the Sixth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, to be confronted with the witnesses against the defendant, when a nontestifying codefendant's incriminating pretrial confession is introduced at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed to consider that confession against only the codefendant. At a joint criminal trial for felony-murder in the Supreme Court of New York, Bronx County, a defendant whose own incriminating statements had been admitted into evidence objected to the introduction of his nontestifying codefendant's pretrial confession, which confession detailed the defendant's alleged participation in the crime. The trial judge, however, while instructing the jury that the codefendant's confession was not to be used against the defendant, allowed the codefendant's confession to be admitted, and, in denying the defendant's motion for a mistrial and severance, the trial judge expressed the view that the law permitted receipt of a nontestifying codefendant's incriminating confession at a joint trial, with limiting instructions that the confession was evidence against the codefendant only, where there were "interlocking" confessions--that is, each of the defendants had made a full, voluntary confession which was almost identical to the confession of his codefendant (119 Misc 2d 1080, 465 NYS2d 419). 

Issue:

Is a defendant deprived of his rights under the Confrontation Clause when his codefendant’s incriminating confession is introduced at their joint trial even though the jury is instructed to consider the codefendant’s confession only against the codefendant?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court rejected the reasoning upon which the lower court had based its decision, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that petitioner's confession was not admissible under those circumstances. In instances such as this one where a nontestifying co-defendant's confession incriminating petitioner was not directly admissible as evidence against petitioner, the co-defendant's confession was not admissible during their joint trial, even if the jury was given a limiting instruction. The admission of such a statement would have violated theConfrontation Clause of U.S. Const. amend. VI.  It was held that the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment bars the admission, at a joint criminal trial, of a nontestifying codefendant's pretrial confession which incriminates the defendant and which is not directly admissible against the defendant, even though (1) the jury is instructed not to consider the confession against the defendant, and (2) the defendant's own confession, corroborating that of the codefendant, is admitted against the defendant.

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