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Law School Case Brief

Hector v. State - 2 Mo. 166 (1829)

Rule:

Whether a confession is sufficiently free and voluntary to be competent testimony, is a matter of law to be decided by the court and not by the jury.

Facts:

After a burglary was discovered at 10:15 in the evening, a group of citizens caught defendant Hector and flogged him in an attempt to make him confess to the burglary. The citizens continued to flog Hector for several hours until Hector stated that he knew the location of the stolen money. The money was not found in the location specified by Hector, who was later indicted for burglary. During trial in Missouri state court, defense counsel filed a motion to exclude the confession on the ground that it was not voluntary and was coerced through pain. The trial court overruled the motion. Then, over defense counsel's objection, the trial court instructed the jury that they should exclude from their consideration any confession made by Hector under the influence of torture or pain, or hope or fear, but that any confession, which, in their opinion, was given freely and voluntarily, should be taken as good evidence against him. Hector was convicted, and he appealed.

Issue:

(1) Did the trial court err in not excluding the confession made by Hector while he was being flogged? (2) Did the trial court err in instructing the jury that all confessions made Hector freely and voluntarily should be taken as evidence against him?

Answer:

(1) Yes; (2) Yes.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court held that the trial court erred in not excluding the confession. The court determined that defendant's confession was made to gain a respite from the pain of the flogging. Anent the second issue, the court stated that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that all confessions made freely and voluntarily by defendant were evidence because the issue of whether a confession was made freely and voluntarily was a matter to be decided by the court, not the jury.

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