Fikes v. Alabama

PETITIONER: William Earl Fikes
LOCATION: Selma, Alabama

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1956-1957)

CITATION: 352 US 191 (1957)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1956
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1957
GRANTED: Mar 26, 1956

Jack Greenburg - for the petitioner
Robert Straub - for the respondent

Facts of the case

On April 24, 1953 in Selma, Alabama, an intruder broke into the apartment of the daughter of the city mayor. The daughter and the intruder struggled through several rooms until she was able to seize his knife, and he fled. The assailant had a towel over his head, so the victim could not identify the defendant during the trial. The police apprehended William Earl Fikes on the basis of a call from a private citizen and held him “on an open charge of investigation.” The police questioned Fikes for hours, placed him in jail, and limited his access to anyone familiar. After nearly a week of this treatment, Fikes confessed in the form of answers to the interrogator’s leading questions. Five days later, Fikes confessed under questioning a second time. When these confessions were admitted into the trial as evidence, Fikes did not testify regarding the events surrounding his interrogation because the judge had ruled he would be subjected to unlimited cross-examination. The jury convicted Fikes and sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed.


Did the questioning leading up to Fikes’ confessions and their subsequent use in trial violate his right to Due Process?

Media for Fikes v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1956 (Part 2) in Fikes v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1956 (Part 1) in Fikes v. Alabama

Earl Warren:

Number 53, William Earl Fikes versus State of Alabama.

Mr. Greenberg, you don't have much time for lunch but we do need the time so I think we'll proceed.

Jack Greenberg:

May it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alabama.

Petitioner, having asserted in the courts below rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, petitioner has been sentenced to death for the crime of burglary in the first degree, it being in the first degree, because he allegedly committed with intent to rape.

The issues in the case are principally two.

The first issue revolves about the admissibility of a confession or confessions which the petitioner alleges were coerced from him in violation of guarantees conferred by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Related to this principle issue of the confession is another issue.

While the confession was in the process of being qualified to be admitted into evidence as voluntary, the petitioner offered to take the stand to testify concerning the voluntary nature of the confession and to testify towards that purpose only.

The State’s Attorney objected stating that if the petitioner were to take the stand, he should then have to testify not only as to voluntariness but -- but as to -- as he said, each and every matter in evidence.

Petitioner claims that the requirement to put him on the stand and require him to testify as to matters as to which he would otherwise be privileged to remain silent, prevented him from establishing the involuntary nature of the confession and consequently was also erroneous.

In addition to this, there is also the issue of whether Negroes were excluded from juries in Dallas County, Alabama contrary to the requirements of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

In the spring of 1953, there were a series of burglaries, rapes and robberies in Dallas County, Alabama, particularly in the City of Selma.

Among the victims whose home was burglarized and against whom there was an attempt to rape was the daughter of the mayor of the City of Selma, Alabama.

The chief of police testified that this crime weight, and particularly this last mentioned crime, placed the Police Department under unusual pressure.

And indeed, he testified that they had never seen anything like that before.

A month later, it was reported that with the petitioner's arrest, the docket of unsolved burglaries and rapes had been solved and that petitioner later on was indicted on at least six counts of which this particular crime was won.

The only evidence --

Earl Warren:

We'll recess now, Mr. Greenberg.