ASHCRAFT v. TENNESSEE No. 381.
327 U.S. 274 (1946)
ASHCRAFT ET AL. v. TENNESSEE.
Supreme Court of United States.
Decided February 25, 1946.
Nat Tipton, Assistant Attorney General of Tennessee, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Roy H. Beeler, Attorney General.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
Mrs. Zelma Ashcraft was murdered in Shelby County, Tennessee. The petitioner Ware was convicted for the murder. The petitioner Ashcraft, husband of the deceased, was convicted for being an accessory before the fact. The Supreme Court of Tennessee affirmed the convictions. We reversed the judgment as to Ashcraft, vacated it as to Ware, and remanded the case to the Supreme Court of Tennessee for further proceedings not inconsistent with our opinion. Ashcraft v. Tennessee,
In our first opinion we pointed out in detail alleged incriminatory admissions used to convict Ashcraft and the circumstances under which he had made them. In summary those statements and circumstances were these. On a Saturday at 7:00 P.M., nine days after his wife was found dead, officers went to Ashcraft's home and took him to a fifth-floor county jail room. There he was held without rest or sleep until 7:00 o'clock Monday morning, or 36 hours. During the entire time Ashcraft was subjected to a constant barrage of questions and charges. According to the officers' testimony he, for about 28 hours, consistently denied any knowledge about, or complicity in, the crime. The officers swore, however, that after 11:00 P.M. Sunday night Ashcraft finally confessed that he knew who killed his wife, but at the same time denied
At an early stage in the new trial, resulting in the conviction we are now reviewing, the prosecuting attorney announced that he intended to use this jail evidence again, "about everything except the confession." And that was done. The witnesses for the State in the first and the second trials were the same. Construing our mandate as prohibiting only the admission of the written unsigned confession, the trial judge allowed the jury to listen to testimony narrating everything else that took place during the entire 36 hours Ashcraft was questioned with no one present but his inquisitors and those summoned by them to buttress their future evidence.
An inspection of the record shows beyond any peradventure of doubt that the testimony used in the last trial
Respondent claims that this testimony did not harm Ashcraft and that Ashcraft's supposed statement that he knew who killed his wife was exculpatory. In fact, in the context of this case, that statement was the strongest possible evidence against Ashcraft, who was charged with having been an accessory before the fact. For ten days following his wife's death, Ashcraft had purported to help the officers in their efforts to solve the crime, and for the first twenty-eight hours of his jail interrogation he had not only stoutly maintained his own innocence whenever it was questioned, but had also denied any knowledge whatever as to the identity of the murderer. To admit knowledge of the murder and of who committed it after these protestations by him would for most people be the equivalent of a confession of guilty participation in advance of the crime. Wilful concealment of material facts has always been considered as evidence of guilt. And statements denying guilt followed by a confession of knowledge of who the guilty person was may carry the strongest implications of a guilty knowledge. Cf. Bram v. United States,
We see no relevant distinction between introduction of this statement and the unsigned alleged confession, except the possibility that the admission of this long-concealed knowledge was perhaps a more effective confession
The State has asked that if Ashcraft's case is reversed we follow the same course as to Ware that we did in the first case, and vacate the judgment against him. For this reason, as well as the reasons given in our former opinion, we do not pass on the constitutional question raised by Ware concerning his alleged confession, but vacate the judgment of the Supreme Court of Tennessee affirming Ware's conviction.
We need not now decide other questions that have been argued except one contention mentioned below.
The judgment against petitioner Ashcraft is reversed and that against petitioner Ware is vacated. Both cases are remanded to the state supreme court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER joins in this opinion on the basis of the decision in Ashcraft v. Tennessee,
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
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