Harrison v. United States

PETITIONER: Harrison
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court of Maryland

DOCKET NO.: 876
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 392 US 219 (1968)
ARGUED: Apr 04, 1968
DECIDED: Jun 10, 1968

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Harrison v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 04, 1968 in Harrison v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 781 -- no, that one is -- number 876, Eddie M. Harrison, Petitioner, versus United States.

Mr. Prather.

Alfred V. J. Prather:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a felony murder case brought in form of proffers and certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The petitioner, Eddie McArthur Harrison is in the D.C. jail serving a life sentence imposed following his third conviction in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Affirmance of that conviction by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and a denial of rehearing on en banc by that court, six members of that court over the dissent of Chief Judge Bazelon and Circuit Judge Wright.

In this Court, the petitioner raises two questions.

First, whether testimony given by him at a former trial to rebut confessions erroneously admitted and illegally obtained could be used against him at the retrial as part of the Government's direct case on the question of guilt.

And second, whether he has been denied a speedy trial.

The record giving lies to these questions is long and unusual but the facts are fairly simple and not really on dispute.

The petitioner and two other boys, Joseph Samson and Orson White, were indicted on April 1, 1960 for the felony murder of one Syder George Brown, a fence and gambler.

At the trial, the principal evidence against them was a set of confessions which admitted that Syder George Brown had been killed during the course of an attempted robbery.

At the trial, the boys took the stand and testified that the confessions were false and had been obtained by threats and abuse.

The truth was, the petitioner explained, that Syder Brown had been killed accidentally during an innocent attempt to pawn a shotgun with him.

Now the jury convicted, the boys, were sentenced to death which was the mandatory sentence for felony murder in the District of Columbia at that time.

Thereafter shortly, it was discovered that one of the counsel who had participated in the case was not a lawyer at all but an imposter, one Daniel Oliver Wendellholmes Morgan who had substituted himself for one L.A. Harris, a real lawyer who had left the jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeals immediately sent the case back to the District Court with instructions to receive and grant motions for a new trial.

But the boys sitting down in the district jail on death row refused to file such motions and repudiated them when they were filed on their behalf by the court appointed counsel because the boys did not want to waive their right to be tried but once for the same crime.

There the matter sat for a number of months until the Court of Appeals eventually ordered a new trial for the boys despite their refusal to ask for it.

At the second trial, again, the confessions were introduced.

Again, the boys took the stand.

Again, they were convicted, only this time they were sentenced to life imprisonment, the mandatory death sentence in the District of Columbia having meanwhile been abolished.

There followed an appeal and the case was argued challenging -- basically challenging the admission of the confessions that have been used against him in some other points.

It was argued in December of 1963.

There the matter sat for some 18 months until the Court of Appeals on its own motion ordered rehearing en banc sua sponte on the question of the admission of one of the petitioner's confessions.

Case was reargued and some six months later or two years after the original argument, the Court of Appeals issued a decision holding all of the confessions inadmissible because they had been illegally obtained.

What was the reason for that long delay, appellant's concept?

Alfred V. J. Prather:

There was no reason that I know of, Your Honor.

Abe Fortas:

Then Judge Robinson recites some when he tried the case?

Alfred V. J. Prather:

He said that the -- he said that the lengthy opinions and the amount of deliberation that went into them spoke for themselves.