Williamson v. United States

RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute

DOCKET NO.: 93-5256
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 512 US 594 (1994)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1994

Benjamin S. Waxman – on behalf of the Petitioner
John F. Manning – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Williamson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 25, 1994 in Williamson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 27, 1994 in Williamson v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 93-5256, Williamson against the United States will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O’Connor:

This case comes here on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The petitioner, Williamson, was convicted of various drug crimes.

One piece of evidence against him was the confession of a confederate, Reginald Harris.

In that confession, Harris admitted to transporting cocaine but also said other things that implicated Williamson.

Because the confession was made out of court, it was hearsay but the District Court admitted it as a statement against penal interest in the proceeding against Williamson, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3).

Rule 804(b)(3) allows hearsay statements to be admitted if they so far tend to expose the person making those statements to criminal liability that a reasonable person would not make them unless they were true.

Williamson appealed his conviction claiming that Harris’ statement was not actually against Harris’ penal interest because it tried to shift blame and curry favor with the police.

The Court of Appeals rejected that argument.

In an opinion filed today, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case.

We hold that rule 804(b)(3) allows only the admission of those individual statements in a confession that are actually against the declarants’ penal interest.

It does not allow the admission of the entire confession just because some parts of it are against the declarant’s interest or because the confession, seen as a whole, is against the declarant’s interest.

Because at least some of what Harris said really did not implicate Harris himself, but only implicated Williamson, we conclude that those statements should not have been admitted.

We remand the case to the Court of Appeals to apply these principles in the first instance.

Justice Scalia who has joined this opinion also filed a concurring opinion; Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment which is joined by Justices Blackmun, Stevens, and Souter; Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas join.