Miller v. Fenton

LOCATION: Hardwick's Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 84-5786
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 474 US 104 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1985
DECIDED: Dec 03, 1985

Anne C. Paskow - on behalf of Respondent
Paul Martin Klein - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Miller v. Fenton

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1985 in Miller v. Fenton

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Klein, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Paul Martin Klein:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

We are faced today with two issues of great import.

The first issue is whether the voluntariness of a confession is a question of fact to which this Court and lower federal courts must defer.

And the second issue is whether the Petitioner's confession was involuntarily obtained by police practices which operated to overhear his will.

We submit that the Court of Appeals' use of the presumption of correctness deprived Petitioner of his statutory right to federal plenary judicial review, and if this Court affirms the decision below, it will displace the ultimate authority to decide the questions of constitutionality of confession from federal courts where Congress placed it and where this Court has consistently recognized it belongs.

With regard to this issue, it is crucial that we look to the nature of the voluntariness inquiry itself and to the nature of the federal courts' role in constitutional adjudication.

We would first contend that the nature of the voluntariness inquiry itself makes it a mixed question not subject to the strictures of section 2254(d).

The constitutionally required test is totality.

This is an indivisible concept.

It is not just a review of facts but the application of law to those facts, not just determine--

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, how does it differ, Counsel, from the question of whether a guilty plea was voluntary in Marshall v. Lonberger or a finding that a particular venireman was biased in Patton v. Yount, and the competency question in Maggio?

Paul Martin Klein:

--Yes, Your Honor, these were the decisions relied on by the Third Circuit, and I would say that the policy decisions there are totally different.

If you look at what was decided in those cases--

William H. Rehnquist:

What policy decisions are you talking about?

Paul Martin Klein:

--Decisions... what the courts were deciding there, what they were pleading--

William H. Rehnquist:

What this Court was deciding.

Paul Martin Klein:

--What this Court was deciding there were questions of credibility and demeanor which the Court, the state courts were in a superior position or had a superior opportunity to review, to assess, to judge--

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, why does the... let's take Marshall v. Lonberger.

Why does the question of whether a guilty plea was knowingly or intelligently made differ from the question of whether a confession was voluntarily given so far as credibility and everything else?

Paul Martin Klein:

--When you are dealing with voluntariness of a confession and you have a defendant or a petitioner in front of you, you cannot deal with the assessment of credibility and demeanor at a closed, inherently secret and inherently coercive setting such as an interrogation.

The Court in Marshall v. Lonberger was able to question the defendant there and was also able to look to state court records of things that were conducted in open court, with a court stenographer, with all the safeguards available to the individual.

You don't have that in an interrogation situation.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, so you say it depends on... that the cases I have referred to depend on the fact that the witnesses were present before the judge who made the finding?

Paul Martin Klein:

That appears to be one of the factors involved.

The other is the question involved.

None of those cases dealt with the question of compulsory self-incrimination.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, but they dealt with other constitutional issues certainly.

Why should compulsory self-incrimination be different from other constitutional issues?