Bruton v. United States

PETITIONER: George William Bruton
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Jewelry Store/Post Office Contract Station # 7

DOCKET NO.: 705
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 391 US 123 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 11, 1968
DECIDED: May 20, 1968
GRANTED: Oct 09, 1967

ADVOCATES:
Daniel P. Reardon, Jr. - for the petitioner
Erwin N. Griswold - for the respondent

Facts of the case

George William Bruton and William James Evans were tried together for robbing a jewelry store that also operated as a U.S. Postal Service contract station. At trial, the judge admitted in to evidence Evans’ confessions, made to the postal inspector and later to police. In the confession, Evans names Bruton as his accomplice. The judge instructed the jury to consider the confession for Evans’ guilt or innocence, but to disregard it as inadmissible hearsay for Bruton’s charges. The jury convicted both men. Evans and Bruton appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That court set aside Evans’ conviction, finding that the confession to the postal inspector should not have been received into evidence. The court upheld Bruton’s conviction because the district court properly instructed the jury not to use the confession when considering Bruton’s charges.

Question

Was George Bruton substantially prejudiced against when the jury heard an improperly obtained admission by a co-defendant, which implicated Bruton in the crime?

Media for Bruton v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 11, 1968 in Bruton v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 705, George William Bruton, petitioner versus United States.

Mr. Reardon?

Daniel P. Reardon, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The question presented herein is whether or not the petitioner, George William Bruton was substantially prejudiced when his jury heard an implicating admission illegally and unconstitutionally obtained from his co-defendant one William James Evans.

The two men were jointly tried with the robbery of a postal contract station.

The robbery occurred on April 16, 1965 in South St. Louis on South Kingshighway.

William too and the evidence disclose two Negroes entered the Robinson Jewelry Store.

Mr. Robinson was repairing watches in the rear of the store while an employee by the name of Ms. Miller was attending to other business behind the desk.

She approached the two men as they entered and began to wait on the man later identified as Evans, William James Evans and showed him some engagement rings, subsequently showed him some watches.

While displaying the watches for Mr. Evans, Evans displayed a revolver and she looked back to the front of the store, wherein the second Negro later identified as Bruton was also displaying a revolver.

She was ordered to the rear of the jewelry store where Mr. Robinson -- where she and Mr. Robinson were bound and order lie face down.

The evidence disclosed that she, Ms. Miller observed Mr. Bruton for a period of some two minutes.

The evidence further disclose that she had seen the co-defendant Mr. Evans in the store that it was a store that normally catered to White individuals and to see a Negro was something extraordinary, that she had seen Mr. Evans on some eight or ten prior occasions.

She had never seen the individual identified as Bruton prior to the two minutes during the course of the robbery.

The robbery produced among other things $30.00 in postal contract funds.

The individuals left the Robinson Jewelry Store on Good Friday, April 16, 1965 and the evidence thereafter concerning the investigation switches until the following year.

Again on Good Friday, this time April the eight of 1966 wherein Mr. Evans was placed in a line up by the St. Louis Police Department and identified by both Ms. Miller and Mr. Robinson as having been one of the perpetrators of the robbery.

He was then questioned on several occasions on that particular day, April 8, 1965 by Detective Farmer.

He denied involvement in the postal contract station robbery.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Evans at that time was a prisoner of the State of Missouri being held in the city jail, awaiting a trial for armed robbery for the robbery of the Western Union station.

He is a matter of fact at that time and to the knowledge of Detective Farmer had an employed attorney by the name of Alfred Harris.

Detective Farmer learned this on April 4, 1966, four days before the line up that occurred on April the 8th.

After several series of questionings, Mr. Evans, the co-defendant admitted and gave to Detective Farmer what he termed confidential information wherein he admitted having perpetrated the robbery of the Robinson Jewelry Store and also implicated Mr. Bruton.

There was no warning given him with regard to his constitutional rights. Mr. Harris, his employed attorney as of prior to April the 8th was not informed with regard to the interview that took place.

But in any event, the scene now switches to April the 11th.

Mr. Evans, the co-defendant was transported back to the city jail.

He remained a prisoner of the State of Missouri but on April the 11th, Detective Farmer had summoned and brought with him a postal inspector by the name of James Thorn.

Mr. Thorn then administered a constitutional warning to Mr. Evans in the presence of Detective Farmer and obtained from Mr. Evans an admission that he had in fact perpetrated the robbery of the Robinson Jewelry Store.

This admission was adduced in the trial.

This admission did not implicate Bruton.