Johnson v. Massachusetts

RESPONDENT: Massachusetts
LOCATION: New Kent County School Board

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 390 US 511 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 06, 1968 / Mar 07, 1968
DECIDED: Apr 01, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for Johnson v. Massachusetts

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 07, 1968 in Johnson v. Massachusetts

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 06, 1968 in Johnson v. Massachusetts

Earl Warren:

Number 702, Ronald L.Johnson, Petitioner, versus Massachusetts.

Mr. Harrington, --

John M. Harrington, Jr.:


Earl Warren:

-- did you want to get some of your records or you could go right ahead, that's alright.

John M. Harrington, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case comes here on certiorari to review a judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

By that judgment, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court which imposed the death penalty on Ronald Johnson, the petitioner here.

The trial court imposed the death penalty following Johnson's conviction by a jury of first degree murder.

The issues which this case brings here arise out of the use at trial of a question and answer statement amounting to a confession which was used over objection.

Those issues -- first, as to whether on the facts which are undisputed that confession could've been determined to be voluntary or conversely must be declared to be involuntary.

And the other issues which arise with respect to that confession, I would respect to the procedures used by the Massachusetts Courts with respect to that confession.

Addressing myself first to the first issue I mentioned, the facts which are undisputed are as follows: the petitioner Johnson was taken into custody at approximately 9:30 PM on the evening of August 1st, 1963.

Immediately prior to his being taken into custody he had been the object of a pursuit.

The shooting for which he was subsequently indicted had occurred at approximately 9:00 PM of that evening.

Johnson was pursued in the car which he was driving by several -- by succession indeed of police vehicles.

And the car he was driving was then in a collision with a bus.

Johnson emerged from that car on foot and after a relatively brief foot pursuit he was apprehended under a porch and brought by policemen to a police box and that's in a police car to the local station house in the District of Boston known as Roxbury.

There, Johnson was booked and he was booked amid circumstances which the trial judge found were attended by confusion, turmoil and strain.

He was plainly injured at the time, there's no question that he was bleeding on the head and around the neck at the time he was booked.

He was then placed --

Potter Stewart:

Supposed -- is there any question but that the -- his condition at that time was a result of the collision with the bus?

John M. Harrington, Jr.:

I don't know.

He -- there was a collision with a bus.

He emerged from the car which was badly damaged, no question to that, but I don't know as to -- I make no contention either way on this, I -- but I don't know and I don't think it was clear in the record.

It merely was perfectly clear that he was bleeding and was injured at that time.

He was placed in a cell and he was given some first aid, this at the local station house.

And at the local station house occurred the first of several confrontations.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

This is how long after he was booked?

John M. Harrington, Jr.:

Oh, the record is not entirely clear on this but it would've been inevitable between 9 -- he was booked at 9:35.

He was taken into custody at 9:30; he was booked at 9:35 on suspicion of murder.