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When obtained in an atmosphere of substantial coercion and inducement created by statements and actions of state authorities, when obtained by police through the use of threats, a criminal defendant's written confession violates due process. The question in each case is whether the defendant's will was overborne at the time he confessed. In short, the true test of admissibility is that the confession is made freely, voluntarily and without compulsion or inducement of any sort. And, of course, whether the confession was obtained by coercion or improper inducement can be determined only by an examination of all of the attendant circumstances.
In a Washington State Court, petitioner, Raymond Haynes, was tried on a charge of robbery, convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. Over his timely objection, there was admitted in evidence a written confession obtained after he had been held incommunicado for 16 hours and had been told that he could not call his wife until he had signed it. In accordance with local practice, the question as to the voluntariness of the confession was left for determination by the jury, and it brought in a general verdict of guilty. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on the ground that the issue of the involuntariness of the confession was properly submitted to the jury. Certiorari was granted.
Could petitioner’s testimony be considered inadmissible for being involuntary, notwithstanding the fact that the issue of involuntariness was passed upon by the jury?
On a writ of certiorari, the court vacated the conviction and remanded the case. The court found that petitioner's account of his interrogation was essentially uncontradicted. The officers told petitioner that he could call his wife only if he "cooperated" and gave them a statement. Petitioner was not taken before a magistrate or granted a preliminary hearing until after he had done so, nor was he advised of his rights. The court observed that the refusal to allow petitioner to communicate with his attorney or his wife was a misdemeanor under state law. The unfair and inherently coercive context in which the confession was made violated due process. The trial court erred when it instructed the jury that failure to advise petitioner of his rights was not relevant to the issue of whether the confession was voluntary. Hence, it was not possible to defer to the jury's fact-finding on this issue.