Jackson v. Denno

PETITIONER: Nathan Jackson
RESPONDENT: Wilfred Denno, Warden
LOCATION: Cumberland Hospital

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 378 US 368 (1964)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1963 / Dec 10, 1963
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1964
GRANTED: Jan 21, 1963

Daniel G. Collins - for the petitioner
William I. Siegel - for the respondents

Facts of the case

On June 14, 1960 at around 1 a.m., Nathan Jackson and Nora Elliot entered a Brooklyn hotel and registered for a room. Jackson drew a gun and took money from the clerk, then ordered the clerk and others upstairs before leaving the hotel. Outside, Jackson encountered a policeman. Both men drew their guns, and in the ensuing altercation, the policeman was fatally wounded and Jackson was shot twice. When a police detective questioned Jackson at the hospital around 2 a.m., he admitted to the robbery and to shooting the police officer. Jackson received pain medication and was questioned again around 4 a.m. He again admitted to the robbery and the shooting. An hour later, Jackson was taken into the operating room.

Jackson and Elliot were indicted and tried together. His two confessions were admitted into evidence without objection. In his testimony, Jackson testified to being pressured into answering questions in the hospital, which the state denied. Consistent with New York practice, the question of the validity of the confession was submitted to the jury along with the other issues. The jury found Jackson guilty and sentenced him to death. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court denied certiorari.

Jackson submitted a petition for habeas corpus alleging that the New York procedure for determining the voluntariness of confession was unconstitutional and that his statement was involuntary. The district court denied the petition. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction.


Is the New York procedure governing the admissibility of allegedly involuntary confessions constitutional?

Media for Jackson v. Denno

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1963 in Jackson v. Denno

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1963 in Jackson v. Denno

Earl Warren:

Nathan Jackson, Petitioner, versus Wilfred Denno.

Mr. Collins, you may continue your argument.

Daniel G. Collins:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Just before the Court recessed yesterday, I asserted that the New York procedure for determining voluntariness of a confession, which lets the jury have this question unless the defendant can meet the very heavy burden for showing that anything but a finding of involuntariness would be unreasonable, imposes a very, very heavy burden on a defendant and in New York, makes the protection against coerced confessions largely an illusion.

I do not assert this merely as a theoretical argument.

I think it is a prevalent notion in the New York Criminal Bar that all confessions will go to the jury.

Moreover, it seems to be no accident that a great deal of this Court's litigation on con -- coerced confessions has through the years come from the New York jurisdiction.

In appraising the New York procedure, it is, as I said yesterday, important to recognize that there is no legitimate relationship between constitutional protection and degree of constitutional violation that this is so.

And that the New York procedure applies in the face of this conclusion is apparent from the rationale of the rule that coerced confessions, once admitted, vitiate a state conviction.

We note today, after this Court's opinions in Rogers against Richmond, Spano against New York and Mapp against Ohio, that the basis for this rule is the fact that our system of constitutional justice will not tolerate the impermissible method used to obtain such confessions, in essence that they are used -- taints the entire proceeding and requires its complete nullification.

Only if the rationale of the coerced confession rule or the unreliability of such confession might there be some justification for finding a positive relationship between constitutional violation and the degree of constitutional protection.

On this point, I think it is useful to recall that in Stein against New York, Mr. Justice Jackson, speaking for this Court, indicated that he believed, erroneously we now know, the unreliability of the confession was the basis for the exclusionary rule.

Petitioner also asked this Court to take cognizance of the fact that the New York procedure compels a defendant on penalty of losing his constitutional protection against the use of an involuntary confession to take the witne -- the witness stand in a state criminal trial.

As a practical matter, a defendant cannot afford to let a confession go unanswered. He must take the stand to refute or explain it.

This is just what happened in the present case.

Petitioner took the stand to deny any memory of the interrogation by the Assistant District Attorney to claim that in any event, there was duress present and to deny among other allegations in the confession that he had admitted firing the first shot.

The question of state compulsion, testimony of -- the state -- the question of -- of incrimination under state law is squarely before this Court again this term in the case of Malloy against Hogan, which has already been briefed and is awaiting argument.

Should this Court find unconstitutionality there, that would indicate that there is another fatal deficiency in the New York procedure.

Respondent repeatedly asserts in his brief that petitioner's argument here against the New York procedure is essentially an anti-jury argument.

This is most certainly not so.

In the first place, this Court, in a long series of -- of cases, has firmly established that a confession that is involuntary as a matter of law cannot go to the jury without vitiating a conviction regardless of the sufficiency of the other evidence.

Respondent in -- at page 15 of his brief, himself, admits this rule.

Petitioner is only asking that this well-established rule be applied consistently and rationally.

Secondly, the procedure in which judge and not jury makes the factual determination of voluntariness is the traditional common-law procedure, the so-called "orthodox" rule.

Professor Wigmore, no great friend of exclusionary rules generally, nevertheless, was outraged from the viewpoint of the law of evidence by the New York procedure.

He simply could not understand how a jury could administer exclusionary rules.

Petitioner here certainly cannot be accused of making -- of advancing a position that tampers with the traditional rights of juries.

Petitioner hopes that it is abundantly clear, both in his brief and in this oral argument, that the rule -- that involuntary confession vitiate a state conviction is based on their abhorrence under our constitutional system of justice.

Unfortunately, the New York procedure does not serve the ends that a constitutional procedure must serve.

The argument you are making is somewhat against the argument you've made rejecting the (Inaudible).