Swenson v. Stidham

LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 71-224
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 409 US 224 (1972)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 1972
DECIDED: Dec 07, 1972

Kenneth M. Romines - for petitioner
Mark M. Hennelly - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Swenson v. Stidham

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 1972 in Swenson v. Stidham

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in Swenson against Stidham, 71-224.

Mr. Romines.

Kenneth M. Romines:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is a habeas corpus case which originated in the Western District of Missouri.

It involves a question concerning Jackson versus Denno and Sims versus Georgia.

In 1955, Mr. Stidham was convicted for the first-degree murder of another inmate in a prison riot at the Missouri State Penitentiary.

The original conviction was affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1957.

Mr. Stidham filed for collateral review pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 27.26 that was likewise affirmed.

Second collateral review in 1967 was sought denied by the Circuit Court of Moniteau County, Missouri.

The Missouri Supreme Court reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing and reinstated Mr. Stidham’s direct appeal in the spirit of Swenson versus Bosler which required counsel on appeal.

Reaffirmed in 1970, Mr. Stidham sought habeas to the Western District of Missouri through Judge Collinson.

Judge Collinson dismissed five separate grounds it was appealed.

The appeal was dismissed by Mr. Stidham, he tried to reinstate the appeal on the court did not allow the reinstatement.

He filed a second habeas corpus petition before Judge Collinson.

Judge Collinson on relying upon the former opinion denied it and also denied a new issue involving Coleman versus Alabama.

Of the five issues that then went to the Eighth Circuit, four were affirmed, one the Jackson v. Denno issue was found by two-to-one vote to be that the Eighth Circuit held that their review of Missouri case law demonstrated that the Missouri Trial Court had and frequently used the right to submit the question of voluntariness to the jury without a prior determination independently by the judge of voluntariness.

In essence, I feel that the Eighth Circuit clearly has held the Missouri rule as the same as in New York rule.

Under Jackson which was struck down the judge could not exclude a confession, if there were circumstance which indicated testimony on both sides.

He was not entitled to exclude a confession merely because he himself would have found it involuntary.

In essence, he was without judicial power to resolve the conflicting evidence on voluntariness.

This Court held that the defendant had the right at some point to a hearing and a determination on the issue of voluntariness and the Court expressed the opinion not to give the jury the dual function of deciding voluntariness and the factual history did not give the defendant constitutional determination that he was due.

Now because of the way that the Eighth Circuit read the Missouri procedure, we’ve dealt extensively with all cases beginning from 1829 when it became a state.

Hector a slave versus the State all the way through up to the most recent cases.

Basically, I think distilling those cases indicates that the Missouri procedure contemplated a preliminary hearing outside the presence of the jury.

That at that hearing the State had the burden of non-persuasion.

After that hearing, the Court could waive the evidence and find the confession involuntary and refused to let it go to the jury; or the court could find the confession, competent evidence, instruct the jury on their duty to find that the confession was voluntary and instruct on their duty to find that if they find that if they found it was voluntary they then had the second determination to make whether they thought it was true and they believe it.

Now the Eighth Circuit quotes rather deafly I believe with the use of ellipsis from different cases in Missouri as their basic reasons for saying the Missouri procedure was bad.

One of those cases, State versus Bradford at the part in the opinion just before the court gets into what is admittedly equivocal language and it’s pretty difficult to determine exactly what the procedure is, the Missouri Supreme Court said this, “The Court is not obliged to submit the issue of voluntariness of a confession to a jury merely because there were substantial evidence tending to show the confession was voluntary, however much the evidence of its voluntary character is outweigh by the evidence to the contrary.”

Now after that portion follows some equivocal language which the court sets out which indicates that but the better rule is that, if there is a real close question, just let it go to the jury.

Now, the question is what’s that mean and my answer is it’s pretty hard to tell.