Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thematic Essay on Supreme Court Cases

Essay: Supreme Court Cases

1. The procedure of buying the drug from the suspect was improperly conducted to begin with. If the Court was reluctant to engage in rule-making in the search and seizure area, it was no less reluctant to do so in the area of confessions. In both areas it recognized that to exclude evidence because of police misconduct in a given case meant that a convicted criminal would not only have his or her conviction reversed but would likely go free because the illegally obtained evidence was frequently the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case. The problem was that, just as with searches, the police continued to commit unacceptable violations of the rights of suspects and the state courts continued to ignore this misconduct.


The Supreme Court dealt at length with its concerns about the use of abusive interrogation tactics by the police in three cases. In light of subsequent events, these cases may be seen as a last plea by the Court to the states to put their houses in order if they were to avoid serious intrusions into their sovereignty by a Supreme Court determined to ensure that rich or poor, black or white, criminal suspects were treated with fundamental fairness not only at the trial but at the investigatory stage.

2. The first case to be consulted here is Rogers v. Richmond. Here the Supreme Court made explicit what had become generally understood: that involuntary confessions were to be excluded not only because they might be untrue but “because the methods used to extract them offend an underlying principle in the enforcement of our criminal law; that ours is an accusatorial and not an inquisitorial system -- a system in which the state must establish guilt by evidence independently and freely secured and may not by coercion prove its charge against an accused out of his own mouth.” In other words, the exclusionary rule was to be employed not just to ensure a fair trial but to deter police misconduct.

In the second case, Reck v. Pate, the Court struck down by a 7-2 vote a murder conviction based on the use of confessions obtained from a nineteen-year-old of subnormal intelligence who had been held incommunicado for eight days and interrogated extensively despite an illness that required hospitalization. It was a change in the Court’s makeup that would make such sweeping changes possible.

3. The evidence from the tape recorder was properly used in the court in this particular case. In Culombe Justice Frankfurter had adopted a middle-of-the-road position, striking down some of the defendant’s confessions while allowing others to be used and generally recognizing the importance of interrogations and confessions, and the obstructiveness of constitutional warnings and defense lawyers, to effective police work. Four Justices would have gone much further. Then Frankfurter resigned, replaced by the activist liberal Arthur Goldberg, who joined the four concurring Justices in Culombe to provide the majority necessary to drive the criminal procedure revolution to new heights (or depths, depending on one’s perspective).

The Supreme Court has coopted the field not only of interrogation law but of the entire body of criminal procedure. One can look in vain in a law school criminal procedure casebook for any discussion of state law. Many states, shell-shocked by the Supreme Court’s blasts, have limited their participation in this area to attempting to decipher and apply Supreme Court law and, in some of the more liberal states, to using the state constitution to resist incursions by subsequent Courts on the rights established by the Warren Court. Some states have, by contrast, attempted to develop rules in areas in which the Supreme Court has been silent.

4. There was a revolution of legislature recently concerning drunk driving. It might seem that the revolution ended at this point simply because there was nothing more to be done. After all, the Court had extended all but two minor aspects of the Bill of Rights criminal process guarantees to the states. But the Court had not gone nearly as far as civil libertarians would have wished. Miranda is a good example of the tempering of activism with a degree of pragmatism that was characteristic of the Warren Court’s decisions. Miranda, after all, did not forbid police questioning of suspects altogether or require that such questioning could occur only in the presence of counsel or before a judge. Such a holding would have been truly revolutionary, but it did not occur. And, as discussed, while the Warren Court did expand the rights of suspects greatly, it also produced a number of decisions that were helpful to the police.
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