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UNITED STATES v. CARIGNAN

decided: November 13, 1951.

UNITED STATES
v.
CARIGNAN



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark; Minton took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Reed

[ 342 U.S. Page 37]

 MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Carignan was convicted in the District Court for the Territory of Alaska of first degree murder in attempting to perpetrate a rape. Alaska Compiled Laws Annotated, 1949, ยง 65-4-1. He was sentenced to death. The conviction was reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Carignan v. United States, 185 F.2d 954. The sole ground of the reversal was the admission of a confession obtained in a manner held to be contrary to the principles expounded by this Court in McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, and Upshaw v. United States, 335 U.S. 410.

The case is here on writ of certiorari granted on the petition of the Government. 341 U.S. 934. The question presented by the petition was whether it was error to admit at the trial respondent's confession of the murder.

[ 342 U.S. Page 38]

     The confession was held inadmissible because given before arrest, indictment, or commitment on the murder charge. The confession was given after respondent had been duly committed to jail, Rule 5, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, under a warrant which charged that he had, at a time six weeks after the murder, perpetrated an assault with intent to rape.

Respondent advances three additional issues to support the reversal of the conviction besides the above point on detention. First. Error, it is argued, was committed by the trial court in admitting the confession because it was obtained by secret interrogation and psychological pressure by police officers. Second. Further error, it is said, followed from a failure of the trial court to submit to the jury, as a question of fact, the voluntary or involuntary character of the confession. Third. Error occurred when the trial court refused to permit respondent to take the stand and testify in the absence of the jury to facts believed to indicate the involuntary character of the confession.*fn1

The United States concedes in regard to the third issue that the better practice, when admissibility of a confession is in issue, is for the judge to hear a defendant's offered testimony in the absence of the jury as to the surrounding facts. Therefore, the Government makes no objection to the reversal of the conviction on that ground. We think it clear that this defendant was entitled to such an opportunity to testify. An involuntary confession is inadmissible. Wilson v. United States, 162 U.S. 613, 623. Such evidence would be pertinent to the inquiry on admissibility and might be material and determinative. The refusal to admit the testimony was reversible error.

[ 342 U.S. Page 39]

     As this error makes necessary a new examination into the voluntary character of the confession, there is no need now to pursue on this record the first and second issues brought forward by respondent, except to say that the facts in this record surrounding the giving of the confession do not necessarily establish coercion, physical or psychological, so as to render the confession inadmissible. The evidence on the new trial will determine the necessity for or character of instructions to the jury on the weight to be accorded the confession, if it is admitted in evidence. Cf. United States v. Lustig, 163 F.2d 85, 88-89. McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 338, note 5. So long as no coercive methods by threats or inducements to confess are employed, constitutional requirements do not forbid police examination in private of those in lawful custody or the use as evidence of information voluntarily given.*fn2

The following summary of the uncontradicted facts discloses the circumstances leading to the confession. Respondent Carignan was detained by the Anchorage police in connection with the subsequent assault case from about 11 a. m., Friday, September 16, 1949. He was identified in a line-up by the victim, and confessed to the assault. Around 4 p. m. on the same day he was arrested and duly committed for the assault. His trial on the assault charge took place subsequent to this confession.

During the time between his detention and commitment for the assault, respondent was questioned by the police about the murder which was the basis of the conviction now under review. A witness who had seen the man involved in the murder and his victim together at the scene of the crime was brought to ...


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