Obrázky stránek

Opinion of the Court.

343 U.S.

We take a somewhat different view. If the confession which petitioner made in the District Attorney's office was in fact involuntary, the conviction cannot stand, even though the evidence apart from that confession might have been sufficient to sustain the jury's verdict. Malinski v. New York, 324 U. S. 401, 402, 404 (1945); Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U. S. 596, 597, n. 1 (1944). That confession was a prominent feature of the trial. First a stenographic transcript of the confession was read, and then a wire recording of it was played to the jury. Under these circumstances we cannot say that the jury's verdict could not have been based, at least in part, on the confession made in the District Attorney's office. Since we take this view, we cannot merely "assume," as did the state supreme court, that that confession was involuntary, but must go on to determine the question of voluntariness.

Petitioner does not so much as suggest that the action of any officer during the taking of the confession was accompanied by force or threats. His sole contention is that the incidents in the park foreman's office, coupled with the presence of nineteen officers in the District Attorney's office, render the confession which he made in the latter office involuntary.

This Court has frequently stated that, when faced with the question whether there has been a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the introduction of an involuntary confession, it must make an independent determination on the undisputed facts. Malinski v. New York, supra, at 404, and cases cited; id., at 438 (dissenting opinion). We adhere to that rule. In the present case, however, we need not confine ourselves to the undisputed facts; for, even if we give petitioner the benefit of every doubt as to the alleged coercion, we do not think it can fairly be said that his confession in the District Attorney's office was coercion's product.


Opinion of the Court.

Whatever occurred in the park foreman's office occurred at least an hour before he began his confession in the District Attorney's office, and was not accompanied by any demand that petitioner implicate himself. Likewise his statement to the officer while on the way to the District Attorney's office was admittedly voluntary. In the District Attorney's office, petitioner answered questions readily; there was none of the "pressure of unrelenting interrogation" which this Court condemned in Watts v. Indiana, 338 U. S. 49, 54 (1949). Indeed, the record shows that from the time of his arrest until the time of his trial, petitioner was anxious to confess to anybody who would listen-and as much so after he had consulted with counsel as before. His willingness to confess to the doctors who examined him, after he had been arraigned and counsel had been appointed, and in circumstances free of coercion, suggests strongly that petitioner had concluded, quite independently of any duress by the police, "that it was wise to make a clean breast of his guilt." See Lyons v. Oklahoma, supra, at 604. In the light of all these circumstances, we are unable to say that petitioner's confession in the District Attorney's office was the result of coercion, either physical or psychological.

We turn now to petitioner's contention that the newspaper accounts of his arrest and confession were so inflammatory as to make a fair trial in the Los Angeles area impossible-even though a period of six weeks intervened between the day of his arrest and confession and the beginning of his trial. Here we are not faced with any question as to the permissible scope of newspaper comment regarding pending litigation, see Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252 (1941); Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U. S. 331 (1946); Craig v. Harney, 331 U. S. 367 (1947); but with the question whether newspaper accounts aroused such prejudice in the community that petitioner's trial was "fatally infected" with an absence of "that

Opinion of the Court.

343 U.S.

fundamental fairness essential to the very concept of justice." Lisenba v. California, 314 U. S. 219, 236 (1941). The search for and apprehension of petitioner was attended by much newspaper publicity. Between the time of the murder and the time of petitioner's arrest, newspapers of general circulation in the Los Angeles area featured in banner headlines the "manhunt” which the police were conducting for petitioner. On the day of petitioner's arrest these newspapers printed extensive excerpts from his confession in the District Attorney's office, the details of the confession having been released to the press by the District Attorney at periodic intervals while petitioner was giving the confession. On the following Monday, four days later, Los Angeles newspapers reprinted the full text of that confession as it was read into the record at the preliminary hearing. Most of these events were given top billing on the front page of the papers, and were accompanied by large headlines. Petitioner was variously described, both in headlines and in the text of news stories, as a "werewolf," a "fiend," a "sex-mad killer," and the like. The District Attorney announced to the press his belief that petitioner was guilty and sane.

The spate of newspaper publicity accompanying petitioner's arrest and confession soon abated, however. During the month of December, 1949, petitioner made the headlines of Los Angeles newspapers only infrequently, such as when he entered a plea of "not guilty" on December 2. Petitioner points to certain other events which occurred during that month. The Governor of the State called a special session of the legislature to consider, among other things, the problem of "sex crimes"; the Governor called a one-day conference of law enforcement officers to consider the same subject; a committee of the state legislature investigating sex crimes held hearings in Los Angeles, at which the District Attorney stated that he did not see why sex offenders "shouldn't be disposed of

[blocks in formation]

the same way" as mad dogs; and various citizens' groups made proposals for studying and dealing with sex crimes. Los Angeles newspapers published accounts of each of these events, and the accounts at times made reference to the murder with which petitioner was charged.

Petitioner's trial itself was reported by Los Angeles newspapers, usually on inside pages. Petitioner makes no objection to this phase of the newspaper coverage except for the newspapers' occasional reference to petitioner as a "werewolf."

While we may deprecate the action of the District Attorney in releasing to the press, on the day of petitioner's arrest, certain details of the confession which petitioner made, we find that the transcript of that confession was read into the record at the preliminary hearing in the Municipal Court on November 21, four days later. Thus in any event the confession would have become available to the press at that time, for "[w]hat transpires in the court room is public property." Craig v. Harney, supra, at 374. Petitioner has not shown how the publication of a portion of that confession four days earlier prejudiced the jury in arriving at their verdict two months thereafter.

We agree with the California Supreme Court that petitioner has failed to show that the newspaper accounts aroused against him such prejudice in the community as to "necessarily prevent a fair trial," Lisenba v. California, supra, at 236. At the outset, it should be noted that at no point did petitioner move for a change of venue, although the California Penal Code explicitly provides that whenever "a fair and impartial trial cannot be had in the county" in which a criminal action is pending, the action may, upon motion of the defendant, be removed to "the proper court of some convenient county free from a like objection." Of course petitioner's failure to make such

6 Cal. Penal Code, 1951, §§ 1033, 1035.

Opinion of the Court.

343 U.S.

a motion is not dispositive of the issue here, since the state court did not decide against petitioner on this ground but rather rejected on the merits his federal constitutional claim. But, in an effort to determine whether there was public hysteria or widespread community prejudice against petitioner at the time of his trial, we think it significant that two deputy public defenders who were vigorous in petitioner's defense throughout the trial, saw no occasion to seek a transfer of the action to another county on the ground that prejudicial newspaper accounts had made it impossible for petitioner to obtain a fair trial in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.

The matter of prejudicial newspaper accounts was first brought to the trial court's attention after petitioner's conviction, as one of the grounds in support of a motion for a new trial. At that time petitioner's present attorney urged that petitioner had been "deprived of the presumption of innocence by the premature release by the District Attorney's office of the details of the confession," and offered in support of that allegation certain Los Angeles newspapers published at the time of petitioner's arrest. The trial court replied as follows:

"[T]he jurors were all thoroughly examined and all definitely stated that they would give to the defendant the benefit of the presumption of innocence. . . . There is nothing to show those jurors ever saw those papers or ever read those papers. They were fully examined so far as defense counsel desired as to any knowledge or information they might have of the case."

7 See Grayson v. Harris, 267 U. S. 352, 358 (1925); International Steel & Iron Co. v. National Surety Co., 297 U. S. 657, 665-666 (1936); Indiana ex rel. Anderson v. Brand, 303 U. S. 95, 98 (1938); Takahashi v. Fish & Game Comm'n, 334 U. S. 410, 414, n. 4 (1948). R. 361-362.

« PředchozíPokračovat »