Blackburn v. Alabama

LOCATION: Congress

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 354 US 393 (1957)
ARGUED: May 02, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for Blackburn v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 02, 1957 in Blackburn v. Alabama

Earl Warren:

Number 426, Jesse Blackburn, Petitioner, versus the State of Alabama.

Mr. Hobbs.

Truman M. Hobbs:

Yes, sir.

May it please the Court.

I represent the petitioner in this case, Jesse Blackburn.

Jesse Blackburn was convicted of the crime of robbery in the State of Alabama.

The crime for which he was convicted was a brutal one.

It involved the armed assault and serious injury to the operator of a rolling country store in the rural county of Colbert County.

It was the contention of Jesse Blackburn in his trial and it has been throughout the appellate procedures in Alabama that his conviction rested on a confession of it -- the admission of a confession into evidence was improper that the confession was involuntary.

And in our petition for certiorari, we had the consideration of that question by this Court whether the confession in that case was involuntary and therefore violated the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

The facts -- the immediate facts surrounding the confession of Jesse Blackburn all came from the Deputy Sheriff who took that confession.

This was true because Jesse Blackburn testified in the trial and stated that he had no recollection whatsoever of the circumstances surrounding that confession.

In fact, he testified that he had no recollection of anything that had occurred for several months prior to his confession and for several months thereafter.

This was not an inconsistent statement for Jesse Blackburn to make because his medical records in -- from Government insane hospital showed that recurrently Jesse Blackburn suffered from complete amnesia for long periods of time.

So then again, as to the immediate facts surrounding that confession, we take it entirely from the testimony of the Deputy Sheriff who obtained the confession.

His testimony showed that shortly sometime after Jesse Blackburn's arrest, he was confined to jail in Colbert County and was taken into a small room there in the jail, which he described as a room four feet by six feet or six feet by eight feet.

We call it a table size room and he was interrogated there by the -- this Deputy Sheriff and two other police officers whom he said came in and out for some nine or 10 hours.

The testimony of the Deputy was that they did knock off the questioning for about an hour while they had supper.

And after supper, the -- the questioning continued until 10 or 11 o'clock at night.

In its brief filed in this Court, the State of Alabama has suggested that the only person that questioned Jesse during all this period of time was this Deputy Sheriff Stanford.

The record itself discloses, however, that the Deputy Sheriff stated that there were these other law enforcement officers who were coming in and out and that in answer to a question as to whether any of these law enforcement officers asked questions, he said they might have asked some questions and then the question was asked, did these questions relate to the facts in this case and his answer was yes.

So we think here that without any real question, we have a situation where this man was questioned almost unceasingly for nine or 10 hours by relays of law enforcement officers in this table sized room in this jail down in Colbert County.

We think such a confession, even if Jesse Blackburn had been a person of normal will and mind, would raise substantial doubts as to whether it would square with the constitutional requirements of due process of law.

But in this case we don't have a person who was of sound mind or sound will.

Jesse Blackburn was a young Negro, 25 years old when this alleged crime was committed.

He had been in the Armed Services during World War II.

And in 1944, he was discharged from the Army as permanently mentally defective.

The Army Medical Board that surveyed him out of the Army, recommended that he be transferred to a government insane institution, and he went from the Army to a government insane institution.

The diagnosis at that time for Jesse Blackburn was that he was a victim of dementia praecox which in other places they call schizophrenia, simple type, that he had a history of hallucinations and defective judgment and insight.

And Jesse Blackburn remained in this government insane institution from 1944 until sometime in 1948.