Supreme Court Invalidates Voluntary Confession Due to Delay

A basic tenet of criminal procedure is that after arrest, you have the right to be brought before a judge without undue delay. (Think, Mallory v. U.S., 1957 and McNabb v. U.S., 1943.)

The Supreme Court upheld that principle today and threw out a confession, even though it was voluntary, because the cops waited too long to take the federal bank robbery suspect to court.

Today's case is Corley v. U.S., written by Justice Souter. The opinion is here (pdf). [More...]

In a world without McNabb-Mallory, federal agents would be free to question suspects for extended periods before bringing them out in the open, and we have always known what custodial secrecy leads to,” Justice Souter wrote. “No one with any smattering of the history of 20th Century dictatorships needs a lecture on the subject…and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed.”

...Justice Frankfurter’s point in McNabb is as fresh as ever: “The history of liberty has largely been the history of observance of procedural safeguards.” 318 U. S., at 347. McNabb-Mallory is one of them, and neither the text nor the history of §3501 makes out a case that Congress meant to do away with it.

The actual holding:
Under the rule as revised by §3501(c), a district court with a suppression claim must find whether the defendant confessed within six hours of arrest (unless a longer delay was “reasonable considering the means of transportation and the distance to be traveled to the near-est available [magistrate]”). If the confession came within that period, it is admissible, subject to the other Rules of Evidence, so long as it was “made voluntarily and . . . the weight to be given [it] is left to the jury.” Ibid.

If the confession occurred before presentment and beyond six hours, however, the court must decide whether delaying that long was unreasonable or unnecessary under the McNabb-Mallory cases, and if it was, the confession is to be suppressed.

The decision was 5 to 4. Who dissented? Alito, Scalia and Thomas.

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    Another 5-4... (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 11:57:28 AM EST
    man this whole experiment hangs on the finest of threads doesn't it?

    good (none / 0) (#1)
    by Capt Howdy on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 11:18:43 AM EST
    "No one with any smattering of the history of 20th Century dictatorships needs a lecture on the subject...and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed."

    slowly I am beginning to feel better about my country.

    And Roberts (none / 0) (#2)
    by Bemused on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 11:28:51 AM EST
      The Supreme Court having already rejected the argument that § 3501 vitiated the rule in Miranda to which it is more directly addressed, finding that it didn't abolish abolsish the exclusionary rule in McNabb and Mallory when  prompt presentment rules are ignored is not  much of a reach.

      The existing rule already basically gives the cops  six hours following arrrest without making any showing of circumstances making presentment being delayed for good reason and for longer delays in some circumstances where they can show reasons causing the delay beyond actively seeking the confession.

    So - what does this holding do to cases (none / 0) (#3)
    by scribe on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 11:51:55 AM EST
    like Jose Padilla's and al-Marri's where the custodial duration between the time of being seized and the time of being brought to a magistrate stretched out to ... months, not hours?  And those purported "confessions" were used (or, in al-Marri's case, intended to be used) against them?

    Oh - and as to those unfortunates held in black sites off-shore, the distance from the magistrate there is the result of the government's own doing.

    And, for that matter, what kind of message is the Supreme Court sending to the Obama administration on other topics like ... procedural safeguards against ... torture?  And how the Court will address cases in which the government seeks to get around the rule of this case (and Mallory) by claiming "national security" as an excuse for not obeying this bright-line rule?

    Score one for the good guys, today.

    Probably (none / 0) (#7)
    by squeaky on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 12:32:21 PM EST
    That is why they were determined enemy combatants and not ordinary criminals. That is how dictatorships get around decisions like McNabb-Mallory.

    Not to Mention (none / 0) (#19)
    by squeaky on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 03:32:30 PM EST
    Material witnesses, who can be held indefinitely without charge.

    Kennedy (none / 0) (#5)
    by Bemused on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 12:19:10 PM EST
      would seem to be in a position to continue  exert tremendous influence for the indefinite future. He's the swing vote in many cases and because Stevens and Ginsburg are probably the most likely to leave the court in the near future , Obama appointments would likely only maintain the current balance.

    Unless he appoints... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 12:26:04 PM EST
    a Geithner, Supreme Court Edition...then these 5-4's stop going the way we would like.

    I think (hope) (none / 0) (#11)
    by Bemused on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 01:45:56 PM EST
     the fact he's a lawyer with a decent constitutional law background means he has far deeper grasp of (and confidence in his grasp of) of legal issues confronting the court than he does of financial ones. I'm not sure he has any abiding fundamental principles guiding his economic policies. I think he's just really afraid of being blamed for what happens and is afraid not to listen to "the experts."

     I can't see him being led into a selection of a Justice who would have been as acceptable to Bush as he was with Treasury. It's also not a situation where he can be told the only good candiates for the Court are people closely aligned with a particular school of thought or who have a cozy relationship with special interests.


    So, (none / 0) (#8)
    by bocajeff on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 12:46:20 PM EST
    the guy didn't do it?

    Irrelevant... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 01:01:28 PM EST
    the case is about the governments crimes, not the guy whose confession may or may not have been coerced due to the denial of due process.

    Your kinder than me Don.... (none / 0) (#15)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 02:10:13 PM EST
    I can call it a crime with no reservations, regardless if the denial of due process is intentional or not.

    If you accidentally short pay your taxes, the man don't wanna hear it....as I don't wanna hear it when the man keeps a human being in a cage too long before seeing a judge.


    the case is remanded (none / 0) (#12)
    by Bemused on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 01:56:10 PM EST
      If the government chooses to pursue it, the trial court must first reconsider the admissibility of the confession under the Supreme Court's holding. If in properly applying the rules the trial court rules the confession inadmissible he can still be tried again, just without admission of that confession.

    yeah (none / 0) (#16)
    by Bemused on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 02:13:59 PM EST
     the court could also need to hold a Kastigar-type hearing where the prosecution would have the burden of showing other evidence was not derived from the confession. Kastigar itself applies to immunized statements not involuntery confessions but the scope of the hearing would be similar.

      I probbaly also should have added that from reading the opinion it is also possible the trial court could review admissibility of the confession under the Supreme Court holding and find it was obtained in comport with the rules and reinstate the verdict without a new trial. The court didn't reach the ultimate issue and rule the confession inadmissible, it just held the trial court applied an erroenous standard in finding it admissible.

    Koh & Johnsen Cases suggest Obama Can't (none / 0) (#17)
    by tokin librul on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 02:26:00 PM EST
    get anyone with even a remotely "liberal" record onto the Court.

    They're already lining up to kill the Hamilton appointment, innit? And he's a 'moderate.'

    Obama won't be able to seat anybody left of Kennedy.


    dictatorships? (none / 0) (#18)
    by diogenes on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 03:17:52 PM EST
    Is custodial secrecy and extended questioning talking about months of questioning or about SIX HOURS???   Go ahead and make an absolute rule if you insist ("six hours") but don't parade about liberty, dictatorships, etc.