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Law School Case Brief

Frazier v. Cupp - 394 U.S. 731, 89 S. Ct. 1420 (1969)

Rule:

The cases concerning the voluntariness of a confession must be decided by viewing the "totality of the circumstances.

Facts:

Upon trial in an Oregon state court, the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, and the Supreme Court of Oregon affirmed the conviction. The defendant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, asserting that (1) his constitutional right to confrontation, guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, had been violated by prosecutorial misconduct in that the prosecutor had included in his opening statement a summary of testimony that he expected to receive from a person who had been indicted with the accused and had pleaded guilty, but who later asserted his privilege against self-incrimination when called as a witness by the prosecutor, (2) his confession to the police should not have been admitted in evidence, since his right to counsel was violated when the police continued the questioning after he said that he thought he should get a lawyer before he talked any more, (3) alternatively, the confession should have been excluded as being involuntary, and (4) his clothing, which had been seized by the police upon searching his duffel bag after they had arrested the defendant's cousin, who had possession of the duffel bag and consented to the search, should not have been admitted in evidence. The District Court granted the writ, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.

Issue:

Was the prisoner's confession a voluntary confession and was thus admissible?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and found that none of the prisoner's allegations were sufficient to warrant reversal. Even though the prosecutor made references to the cousin's expected testimony in his opening statement, which was followed by the cousin's assertion of his privilege against self-incrimination, such references were not found to be a prosecutorial misconduct nor a deprivation of the right of confrontation. Under the totality of the circumstances standard, the prisoner's confession was a voluntary confession and was thus admissible because: (1) he received partial warnings of his constitutional rights before he made any incriminating statements, (2) the questioning was of short duration, and he was a mature individual of normal intelligence, and (3) while the police officer's misrepresentation of the cousin's statement was relevant, it was insufficient to make such otherwise voluntary confession inadmissible. Further, the police officers were permitted to seize the evidence against the prisoner that was found while in the course of an otherwise lawful search.

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