Corley v. United States

PETITIONER: Johnnie Corley
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Norsco Federal Credit Union

DOCKET NO.: 07-10441
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 556 US (2009)
GRANTED: Oct 01, 2008
ARGUED: Jan 21, 2009
DECIDED: Apr 06, 2009

David L. McColgin - argued the cause for the petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case

In September 2004, Johnnie Corley was convicted on counts of armed bank robbery and the use and carrying of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Before trial, he filed a motion to suppress his oral and written confessions. The federal district court dismissed the motion. After his conviction, Mr. Corley appealed arguing his motion was improperly dismissed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling.

The court recognized that federal statutes require federal officials to bring persons they arrest before judicial officers without unnecessary delay. Confessions received after such delays and before the arrested person is presented before a federal magistrate should be suppressed. Mr. Corley's confessions fell under these guidelines. However, the court reasoned that the voluntariness of a confession was an overriding factor in determining admissibility. Mr. Corley voluntarily confessed. Therefore, his confessions were admissible.


Does 18 U.S.C. Section 3501 supplant Supreme Court precedent and make admissible voluntary confessions that are taken more than six hours after arrest and before that person has been presented before judicial officers?

Media for Corley v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 2009 in Corley v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 06, 2009 in Corley v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Souter has our opinion this morning in case 07-10441, Corley versus United States, which will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Federal law has long required that when a suspect is arrested on federal charges, the arresting officer bring him before a magistrate judge as soon as reasonably possible.

In two cases, McNabb versus United States and Mallory versus United States, this Court has held that if arresting officers violate this law, any confession the suspect may give during the unreasonable delay is excluded from evidence and this is known as the McNabb-Mallory rule.

In 1968, Congress considered changing the McNabb-Mallory rule as well as overruling our decision in Miranda versus Arizona and it passed 18 U.S.C. Section 3501.

And the question in this case is whether 3501 did a way with McNabb-Mallory altogether or merely limited its application.

The issue arose here because petitioner Corley confessed to a bank robbery nine and a half hours after his arrest but before being brought before a magistrate.

The Third Circuit held his confession admissible concluding that Section 3501 eliminated McNabb-Mallory entirely, we disagreed.

Section 3501 is not a model of clarity.

Section 3501(a) says that any voluntary confession is admissible in evidence.

But subsection 3501(c) says that no confession shall be inadmissible solely because of delay unless the delay exceeds six hours.

If subsection (a) meant what it literally said, subsection (c) would be entirely superfluous because (a) would make any voluntary confession admissible regardless of whether they occurred within six hours of the arrest.

Giving (a) its literal scope would also eliminate some rules of evidence as it would make any voluntary confession admissible even if it were, for example, hearsay or protected by attorney-client privilege.

We therefore read subsection (a) as doing nothing more than attempting to overrule Miranda and (c) is limiting McNabb-Mallory to confessions given over six hours after arrest.

Section 3501's legislative history confirms that this is what Congress intended and this reading ensures that the federal requirement of presenting an arrestee to a magistrate promptly retains some teeth.

Now, we vacate and remand so the Third Circuit can apply the proper interpretation of Section 3501.

Justice Alito has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Thomas joined.