Nelson v. O'Neil

LOCATION: Edward Coolidge's Home

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 402 US 622 (1971)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Nelson v. O'Neil

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1971 in Nelson v. O'Neil

Warren E. Burger:

-- next in number 336, Nelson against O'Neil.

Mr. Kirk you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Charles R. B. Kirk:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The central question in this case is Bruton there.

Was the respondent O'Neil, given the opportunity to cross-examine a co-defendant Runnels, who in a confession implicated O'Neil or to perhaps phrase it as the Court of Appeal did, was there an opportunity for effective cross-examination.

I think a central to the determination of this question is examination of the purpose of confrontation, and is this Court recently said in Dutton v. Evans and I quote, ?The decisions of this Court make it clear that the mission of the Confrontation Clause is to advance a practical concern for the accuracy of the truth determining process in criminal trials by assuring that the trier of fact has a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth of the prior statement.?

Now before looking to the options available, when the confessing co-defendant takes that stand as Mr. Runnels did in this case, let's see what this case does not involve.

This case does not involve a Pointer type issue where the witness never takes a stand and is never cross-examined, never available.

This is not a Douglas type issue where the co-defendant takes the stand, but by invoking the privilege against self-incrimination removes himself from any possibility of either direct or cross-examination.

So, when the Court of --

Did Runnels on any ground attempted to remain silent and refused to testify?

Charles R. B. Kirk:

Mr. Runnels?


Charles R. B. Kirk:

No, Your Honor.

He voluntarily testified.

He was on the stand at his own request in his own defense.

Warren E. Burger:

Respondent's counsel simply passed up his opportunity to cross-examine --

Charles R. B. Kirk:

That is my viewpoint, Your Honor.

He had the full opportunity, he could have done so if he wanted, but he did not.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well they were opposed to putting it out.

Charles R. B. Kirk:

Yes, they were indeed Mr. Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Why would the respondent's counsel want to cross-examine?

Charles R. B. Kirk:

Well, this is part of my point.

I think that --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Why wouldn't ? what wouldn't he want to --

Charles R. B. Kirk:

Well, --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

They were -- both had passed without --

That's right.

This is precisely my point.

I think that the respondent confuses the technique of cross-examination.