Bruton v. United States
391 U.S. 123 (1968)
 

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question, last considered in Delli Paoli v. United States, 352 U.S. 232, whether the conviction of a defendant at a joint trial should be set aside although the jury was instructed that a codefendant's confession inculpating the defendant had to be disregarded in determining his guilt or innocence.

A joint trial of petitioner and one Evans in the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri resulted in the conviction of both by a jury on a federal charge of armed postal robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2114. A postal inspector testified that Evans orally confessed to him that Evans and petitioner committed the armed robbery. The postal inspector obtained the oral confession, and another in which Evans admitted he had an accomplice whom he would not name, in the course of two interrogations of Evans at the city jail in St. Louis, Missouri, where Evans was held in custody on state criminal charges. Both petitioner and Evans appealed their convictions to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That court set aside Evans' conviction on the ground that his oral confessions to the postal inspector should not have been received in evidence against him. 375 F.2d 355, 361. However, the court, relying upon Delli Paoli, affirmed petitioner's conviction because the trial judge instructed the jury that although Evans' confession was competent evidence against Evans it was inadmissible hearsay against petitioner and therefore had to be disregarded in determining petitioner's guilt or innocence. 375 F.2d, at 361-363.(1)2 We granted certiorari to reconsider Delli Paoli. 389 U.S. 818. The Solicitor General has since submitted a memorandum stating that "in the light of the record in this particular case and in the interests of justice, the judgment below should be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial." The Solicitor General states that this disposition is urged in part because "[h]ere it has been determined that the confession was wrongly admitted against [Evans] and his conviction has been reversed, leading to a new trial at which he was acquitted. To argue, in this situation, that [petitioner's] conviction should nevertheless stand may be to place too great a strain upon the [Delli Paoli] rule--at least, where, as here, the other evidence against [petitioner] is not strong." We have concluded, however, that Delli Paoli should be overruled. We hold that, because of the substantial risk that the jury, despite instructions to the contrary, looked to the incriminating extrajudicial statements in determining petitioner's guilt, admission of Evans' confession in this joint trial violated petitioner's right of cross-examination secured by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. We therefore overrule Delli Paoli and reverse....

Delli Paoli assumed that ... encroachment on the right to confrontation could be avoided by the instruction to the jury to disregard the inadmissible hearsay evidence. But ... that assumption has since been effectively repudiated. True, the repudiation was not in the context of the admission of a confession inculpating a codefendant but in the context of a New York rule which submitted to the jury the question of the voluntariness of the confession itself. Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368. Nonetheless the message of Jackson for Delli Paoli was clear. We there held that a defendant is constitutionally entitled at least to have the trial judge first determine whether a confession was made voluntarily before submitting it to the jury for an assessment of its credibility. More specifically, we expressly rejected the proposition that a jury, when determining the confessor's guilt, could be relied on to ignore his confession of guilt should it find the confession involuntary. Id. at 388-389. Significantly, we supported that conclusion in part by reliance upon the dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Frankfurter for the four Justices who dissented in Delli Paoli....

We, of course, acknowledge the impossibility of determining whether in fact the jury did or did not ignore Evans' statement inculpating petitioner in determining petitioner's guilt. But that was also true in the analogous situation in Jackson v. Denno, and was not regarded as militating against striking down the New York procedure there involved. It was enough that that procedure posed "substantial threats to a defendant's constitutional rights to have an involuntary confession entirely disregarded and to have the coercion issue fairly and reliably determined. These hazards we cannot ignore." 378 U.S., at 389. Here the introduction of Evans' confession posed a substantial threat to petitioner's right to confront the witnesses against him, and this is a hazard we cannot ignore. Despite the concededly clear instructions to the jury to disregard Evans' inadmissible hearsay evidence inculpating petitioner, in the context of a joint trial we cannot accept limiting instructions as an adequate substitute for petitioner's constitutional right of cross-examination. The effect is the same as if there had been no instruction at all.

Reversed.

Mr. Justice WHITE, dissenting....

The defendant's own confession may not be used against him if coerced, not because it is untrue but to protect other constitutional values. The jury may have great difficulty understanding such a rule and following an instruction to disregard the confession. In contrast, the codefendant's admissions cannot enter into the determination of the defendant's guilt or innocence because they are unreliable. This the jury can be told and can understand. Just as the Court believes that juries can reasonably be expected to disregard ordinary hearsay or other inadmissible evidence when instructed to do so, I believe juries will disregard the portions of a codefendant's confession implicating the defendant when so instructed. Indeed, if we must pick and choose between hearsay as to which limiting instructions will be deemed effective and hearsay the admission of which cannot be cured by instructions, codefendants' admissions belong in the former category rather than the latter, for they are not only hearsay but hearsay which is doubly suspect. If the Court is right in believing that a jury can be counted on to ignore a wide range of hearsay statements which it is told to ignore, it seems very odd to me to question its ability to put aside the codefendant's hearsay statements about what the defendant did....



Why was Evans's confession inadmissible against Bruton? Why should joint venturers in crime be protected against the risk that their confederates will confess and implicate them? Compare rules like felony murder and the hearsay exception for co-conspirators' statements. These rules put a criminal at risk for what his confederate does and says prior to arrest. Why is a constitutional line drawn at the point of arrest?

Besides the Bruton situation, what other contexts exist in which "the risk that the jury will not, or cannot, follow instructions is so great, and the consequences of failure so vital to the defendant, that the practical limitations of the jury system cannot be ignored"? Or to use Justice Stewart's phraseology, what kinds of hearsay are "at once so damaging, so suspect, and yet so difficult to discount, that jurors cannot be trusted to give such evidence the minimal weight it logically deserves, whatever instructions the trial judge might give," 391 U.S. at 138 (Stewart, J., concurring), and thus barred by the confrontation clause? Do not dangers of jury misuse of evidence exist whenever evidence that would be hearsay if admitted to prove the truth of its content is admitted for a nonhearsay purpose, such as proving knowledge? What principles would you apply to "pick and choose" between hearsay that may be admitted with curative instructions and that which cannot be cured with instructions? 391 U.S. at 142 (White, J., dissenting).

Does Bruton cast doubt on the constitutionality of the admissibility of all co-conspirators' statements under Rule 801(d)(2)(E)? Or does the existence of Rule 801(d)(2)(E) lend support to the notion that it was the unreliability of the particular evidence in Bruton (i.e., its self-serving, after-the-fact, finger-pointing quality), rather than the unavailability of the declarant, that was crucial in Bruton?

1. 2. At the close of the Government's direct case, the trial judge cautioned the jury that Evans' admission implicating petitioner "if used, can only be used against the defendant Evans. It is hearsay insofar as the defendant George William Bruton is concerned, and you are not to consider it in any respect to the defendant Bruton, because insofar as he is concerned it is hearsay.''

The instructions to the jury included the following:

"A confession made outside of court by one defendant may not be considered as evidence against the other defendant, who was not present and in no way a party to the confession. Therefore, if you find that a confession was in fact voluntarily and intentionally made by the defendant Evans, you should consider it as evidence in the case against Evans, but you must not consider it, and should disregard it, in considering the evidence in the case against the defendant Bruton....

"It is your duty to give separate, personal consideration to the cause of each individual defendant. When you do so, you should analyze what the evidence shows with respect to that individual, leaving out of consideration entirely any evidence admitted solely against some other defendant. Each defendant is entitled to have his case determined from his own acts and statements and the other evidence in the case which may be applicable to him.''

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question, last considered in Delli Paoli v. United States, 352 U.S. 232, whether the conviction of a defendant at a joint trial should be set aside although the jury was instructed that a codefendant's confession inculpating the defendant had to be disregarded in determining his guilt or innocence.

A joint trial of petitioner and one Evans in the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri resulted in the conviction of both by a jury on a federal charge of armed postal robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2114. A postal inspector testified that Evans orally confessed to him that Evans and petitioner committed the armed robbery. The postal inspector obtained the oral confession, and another in which Evans admitted he had an accomplice whom he would not name, in the course of two interrogations of Evans at the city jail in St. Louis, Missouri, where Evans was held in custody on state criminal charges. Both petitioner and Evans appealed their convictions to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That court set aside Evans' conviction on the ground that his oral confessions to the postal inspector should not have been received in evidence against him. 375 F.2d 355, 361. However, the court, relying upon Delli Paoli, affirmed petitioner's conviction because the trial judge instructed the jury that although Evans' confession was competent evidence against Evans it was inadmissible hearsay against petitioner and therefore had to be disregarded in determining petitioner's guilt or innocence. 375 F.2d, at 361-363.(1)2 We granted certiorari to reconsider Delli Paoli. 389 U.S. 818. The Solicitor General has since submitted a memorandum stating that "in the light of the record in this particular case and in the interests of justice, the judgment below should be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial." The Solicitor General states that this disposition is urged in part because "[h]ere it has been determined that the confession was wrongly admitted against [Evans] and his conviction has been reversed, leading to a new trial at which he was acquitted. To argue, in this situation, that [petitioner's] conviction should nevertheless stand may be to place too great a strain upon the [Delli Paoli] rule--at least, where, as here, the other evidence against [petitioner] is not strong." We have concluded, however, that Delli Paoli should be overruled. We hold that, because of the substantial risk that the jury, despite instructions to the contrary, looked to the incriminating extrajudicial statements in determining petitioner's guilt, admission of Evans' confession in this joint trial violated petitioner's right of cross-examination secured by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. We therefore overrule Delli Paoli and reverse....

Delli Paoli assumed that ... encroachment on the right to confrontation could be avoided by the instruction to the jury to disregard the inadmissible hearsay evidence. But ... that assumption has since been effectively repudiated. True, the repudiation was not in the context of the admission of a confession inculpating a codefendant but in the context of a New York rule which submitted to the jury the question of the voluntariness of the confession itself. Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368. Nonetheless the message of Jackson for Delli Paoli was clear. We there held that a defendant is constitutionally entitled at least to have the trial judge first determine whether a confession was made voluntarily before submitting it to the jury for an assessment of its credibility. More specifically, we expressly rejected the proposition that a jury, when determining the confessor's guilt, could be relied on to ignore his confession of guilt should it find the confession involuntary. Id. at 388-389. Significantly, we supported that conclusion in part by reliance upon the dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Frankfurter for the four Justices who dissented in Delli Paoli....

We, of course, acknowledge the impossibility of determining whether in fact the jury did or did not ignore Evans' statement inculpating petitioner in determining petitioner's guilt. But that was also true in the analogous situation in Jackson v. Denno, and was not regarded as militating against striking down the New York procedure there involved. It was enough that that procedure posed "substantial threats to a defendant's constitutional rights to have an involuntary confession entirely disregarded and to have the coercion issue fairly and reliably determined. These hazards we cannot ignore." 378 U.S., at 389. Here the introduction of Evans' confession posed a substantial threat to petitioner's right to confront the witnesses against him, and this is a hazard we cannot ignore. Despite the concededly clear instructions to the jury to disregard Evans' inadmissible hearsay evidence inculpating petitioner, in the context of a joint trial we cannot accept limiting instructions as an adequate substitute for petitioner's constitutional right of cross-examination. The effect is the same as if there had been no instruction at all.

Reversed.

Mr. Justice WHITE, dissenting....

The defendant's own confession may not be used against him if coerced, not because it is untrue but to protect other constitutional values. The jury may have great difficulty understanding such a rule and following an instruction to disregard the confession. In contrast, the codefendant's admissions cannot enter into the determination of the defendant's guilt or innocence because they are unreliable. This the jury can be told and can understand. Just as the Court believes that juries can reasonably be expected to disregard ordinary hearsay or other inadmissible evidence when instructed to do so, I believe juries will disregard the portions of a codefendant's confession implicating the defendant when so instructed. Indeed, if we must pick and choose between hearsay as to which limiting instructions will be deemed effective and hearsay the admission of which cannot be cured by instructions, codefendants' admissions belong in the former category rather than the latter, for they are not only hearsay but hearsay which is doubly suspect. If the Court is right in believing that a jury can be counted on to ignore a wide range of hearsay statements which it is told to ignore, it seems very odd to me to question its ability to put aside the codefendant's hearsay statements about what the defendant did....



Why was Evans's confession inadmissible against Bruton? Why should joint venturers in crime be protected against the risk that their confederates will confess and implicate them? Compare rules like felony murder and the hearsay exception for co-conspirators' statements. These rules put a criminal at risk for what his confederate does and says prior to arrest. Why is a constitutional line drawn at the point of arrest?

Besides the Bruton situation, what other contexts exist in which "the risk that the jury will not, or cannot, follow instructions is so great, and the consequences of failure so vital to the defendant, that the practical limitations of the jury system cannot be ignored"? Or to use Justice Stewart's phraseology, what kinds of hearsay are "at once so damaging, so suspect, and yet so difficult to discount, that jurors cannot be trusted to give such evidence the minimal weight it logically deserves, whatever instructions the trial judge might give," 391 U.S. at 138 (Stewart, J., concurring), and thus barred by the confrontation clause? Do not dangers of jury misuse of evidence exist whenever evidence that would be hearsay if admitted to prove the truth of its content is admitted for a nonhearsay purpose, such as proving knowledge? What principles would you apply to "pick and choose" between hearsay that may be admitted with curative instructions and that which cannot be cured with instructions? 391 U.S. at 142 (White, J., dissenting).

Does Bruton cast doubt on the constitutionality of the admissibility of all co-conspirators' statements under Rule 801(d)(2)(E)? Or does the existence of Rule 801(d)(2)(E) lend support to the notion that it was the unreliability of the particular evidence in Bruton (i.e., its self-serving, after-the-fact, finger-pointing quality), rather than the unavailability of the declarant, that was crucial in Bruton?

1. 2. At the close of the Government's direct case, the trial judge cautioned the jury that Evans' admission implicating petitioner "if used, can only be used against the defendant Evans. It is hearsay insofar as the defendant George William Bruton is concerned, and you are not to consider it in any respect to the defendant Bruton, because insofar as he is concerned it is hearsay.''

The instructions to the jury included the following:

"A confession made outside of court by one defendant may not be considered as evidence against the other defendant, who was not present and in no way a party to the confession. Therefore, if you find that a confession was in fact voluntarily and intentionally made by the defendant Evans, you should consider it as evidence in the case against Evans, but you must not consider it, and should disregard it, in considering the evidence in the case against the defendant Bruton....

"It is your duty to give separate, personal consideration to the cause of each individual defendant. When you do so, you should analyze what the evidence shows with respect to that individual, leaving out of consideration entirely any evidence admitted solely against some other defendant. Each defendant is entitled to have his case determined from his own acts and statements and the other evidence in the case which may be applicable to him.''

 


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