Colorado v. Connelly

RESPONDENT: Francis Connelly
LOCATION: Craig, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 85-660
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Colorado Supreme Court

CITATION: 479 US 157 (1986)
ARGUED: Oct 08, 1986
DECIDED: Dec 10, 1986

Andrew J. Pincus - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae in support of petitioner
Nathan B. Coats - on behalf of the petitioner
Thomas M. Van Cleave, III - on behalf of respondent

Facts of the case

In 1983, Francis Connelly approached a police officer and, without any prompting, confessed to murder. The police officer immediately informed Connelly that he had the right to remain silent, but Connelly indicated that he still wished to discuss the murder. It was later discovered that Connelly was suffering from chronic schizophrenia at the time of the confession. A Colorado trial court suppressed the statements on the ground that they were made involuntarily.


Did the taking of Connelly's statements as evidence violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Colorado v. Connelly

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 1986 in Colorado v. Connelly

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in No. 85-660, Colorado versus Francis Barry Connelly.

Mr Coats, we will wait just a minute until the crowd clears out, assuming they are planning to do that.

You may proceed any time you are ready, Mr. Coats.

Nathan B. Coats:

Thank you, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, factually and procedurally I think this case is very straightforward, but the facts of the case are peculiarly important to the issues that are posed, and we are here on a writ of certiorari to the Colorado Supreme Court in a case in which the Colorado court upheld the suppression of a murder confession.

Factually, here is what happened.

The respondent, who is the criminal defendant in the case below, came up to a uniformed police officer in downtown Denver in August of 1983, and he told him that he had killed someone, and he wanted to tell the officer about it.

The officer advised the defendant of his Miranda rights, which the defendant said he understood, and the officer later testified that he specifically advised the defendant as well that he didn't have to talk to him, but the defendant said it would be all right, that his conscience had been bothering him and he wanted to talk to him.

The defendant then subsequently told the officer and other officers--

John Paul Stevens:

Mr. Coats, may I interrupt just a second to get one thing?

Nathan B. Coats:

--Yes, sir.

John Paul Stevens:

Did the officer take the defendant into custody?

Nathan B. Coats:

He handcuffed the defendant at that time.

John Paul Stevens:

Would you agree that was custody, or do you take the position it was not custody?

Nathan B. Coats:

No, I believe that was custody, Your Honor.

John Paul Stevens:

And that was at the time he gave the Miranda warnings or right before he gave the Miranda warning?

Nathan B. Coats:

It is not entirely clear, but it was almost contemporaneously, yes.

John Paul Stevens:

So that you have one statement volunteered before custody, "I killed someone", and then you have Miranda warnings, and then some other statements after that.

Nathan B. Coats:

Yes, sir, I believe that's correct.

John Paul Stevens:

So they may possibly at least present different issues.

Nathan B. Coats:

Yes, sir.

The defendant then told that officer and other officers after the point of custody that he had killed a young Indian girl named Mary Ann Junta that he had been traveling with in November or December of the prior year, which would be 1982, and he told them also that he had killed her in a particular location in southwest Denver.

The police were able to determine pretty quickly that they... an unidentified female body had been discovered in April of 1983 and the defendant actually then took a couple of the officers out to the scene of the murder, showed them where he had committed the murder and how he had hidden the body and covered it with a mattress.

The defendant told his public defender, members of the public defender's staff shortly after that that he had come to Denver from Boston because voices told him to do that, so the defendant was sent to the Colorado State Hospital for a competency exam.

Based on the psychiatric report, he was found to be incompetent to proceed and he remained at that status for about six months until the same psychiatrist filed a new report saying that he then considered the defendant competent.

Now, at that point the defendant filed a motion to suppress all of his statements and to suppress all of the evidence derived from them because his confession was involuntary and because it was in violation of Miranda.

All the facts that I have already mentioned came out at the suppression hearing, but in addition to those facts the psychiatrist testified at the suppression hearing that the defendant suffered from chronic schizophrenia, that he had something which the psychiatrist called command auditory halucinations, and that the defendant had told him that he had experienced the voice of God telling him to come back from Boston to Denver and to either confess or to kill himself.

The trial court granted the motion to suppress, but he did so in a way on narrow grounds.

Despite the fact that he found that the the police had not done anything untoward or caused the confession, he nevertheless found that the defendant was incapable of making a voluntary confession for the reason that he felt compelled to follow the mandate of God, which the court found to be a product of his psychosis.

The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, but in affirming it made a slight refinement on the suppression order which is very important for the review here.