MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioners are under sentence of imprisonment for forty-five years for the murder of an officer of the Alcohol Tax Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue engaged in the performance of his official duties. (18 U.S.C. § 253.) They were convicted of second-degree murder in the District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, and on appeal to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit the convictions were sustained. 123 F.2d 848. We brought the case here because the petition for certiorari presented serious questions in the administration of federal criminal justice. 316 U.S. 658. Determination of these questions turns upon the circumstances relating to the admission in evidence of incriminating statements made by the petitioners.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 31, 1940, information was received at the Chattanooga office of the Alcoholic Tax Unit that several members of the McNabb family were planning to sell that night whiskey on which federal taxes had not been paid. The McNabbs were a clan of Tennessee mountaineers living about twelve miles from Chattanooga in a section known as the McNabb Settlement. Plans were made to apprehend the McNabbs while actually engaged in their illicit enterprise. That evening four revenue agents, accompanied by the Government's informers, drove to the McNabb Settlement. When they approached the rendezvous arranged between the McNabbs and the informers, the officers got out of the car. The informers drove on and met five of the McNabbs, of whom three — the twin brothers Freeman and Raymond, and their cousin Benjamin — are the petitioners here.
Instead of pursuing the McNabbs, the officers began to empty the cans. They heard noises coming from the direction of the cemetery, and after a short while a large rock landed at their feet. An officer named Leeper ran into the cemetery. He looked about with his flashlight but discovered no one. Noticing a couple of whiskey cans there, he began to pour out their contents. Shortly afterwards the other officers heard a shot; running into the cemetery they found Leeper on the ground, fatally wounded. A few minutes later — at about ten o'clock — he died without having identified his assailant. A second shot slightly wounded another officer. A search of the cemetery proved futile, and the officers left.
About three or four hours later — between one and two o'clock Thursday morning — federal officers went to the home of Freeman, Raymond, and Emuil McNabb and there placed them under arrest. Freeman and Raymond were twenty-five years old. Both had lived in the Settlement all their lives; neither had gone beyond the fourth grade in school; neither had ever been farther from his home than Jasper, twenty-one miles away. Emuil was twenty-two years old. He, too, had lived in the Settlement all his life, and had not gone beyond the second grade.
Immediately upon arrest, Freeman, Raymond, and Emuil were taken directly to the Federal Building at Chattanooga. They were not brought before a United States commissioner or a judge. Instead, they were placed in a detention room (where there was nothing they
Barney McNabb, who had been arrested early Thursday morning by the local police, was handed over to the federal authorities about nine or ten o'clock that morning. He was twenty-eight years old; like the other McNabbs he had spent his entire life in the Settlement, had never gone beyond Jasper, and his schooling stopped at the third grade. Barney was placed in a separate room in the Federal Building where he was questioned for a short period. The officers then took him to the scene of the killing, brought him back to the Federal Building, questioned him further for about an hour, and finally removed him to the county jail three blocks away.
In the meantime, direction of the investigation had been assumed by H.B. Taylor, district supervisor of the Alcohol Tax Unit, with headquarters at Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor was the Government's chief witness on the central issue of the admissibility of the statements made by the McNabbs. Arriving in Chattanooga early Thursday morning, he spent the day in study of the case before beginning his interrogation of the prisoners. Freeman, Raymond, and Emuil, who had been taken to the county jail about five o'clock Thursday afternoon, were brought back to the Federal Building early that evening. According to Taylor, his questioning of them began at nine o'clock. Other officers set the hour earlier.
The men were questioned singly and together. As described by one of the officers, "They would be brought in, be questioned possibly at various times, some of them half an hour, or maybe an hour, or maybe two hours." Taylor testified that the questioning continued until one o'clock in the morning, when the defendants were taken back to the county jail.
The questioning was resumed Friday morning, probably sometime between nine and ten o'clock.
Benjamin McNabb, the third of the petitioners, came to the office of the Alcohol Tax Unit about eight or nine o'clock Friday morning and voluntarily surrendered. Benjamin was twenty years old, had never been arrested before, had lived in the McNabb Settlement all his life, and had not got beyond the fourth grade in school. He told the officers that he had heard that they were looking for him but that he was entirely innocent of any connection with the crime. The officers made him take his clothes off for a few minutes because, so he testified, "they wanted to look at me. This scared me pretty much."
Because there were "certain discrepancies in their stories, and we were anxious to straighten them out," the
The questioning of the defendants continued until about two o'clock Saturday morning, when the officers finally "got all the discrepancies straightened out." Benjamin did not change his story that he had fired only the first shot. Freeman and Raymond admitted that they were present when the shooting occurred, but denied Benjamin's charge that they had urged him to shoot. Barney and Emuil, who were acquitted at the direction of the trial court, made no incriminating admissions.
Concededly, the admissions made by Freeman, Raymond and Benjamin constituted the crux of the Government's case against them, and the convictions cannot stand if such evidence be excluded. Accordingly, the question for our decision is whether these incriminating statements, made under the circumstances we have summarized,
It is true, as the petitioners assert, that a conviction in the federal courts, the foundation of which is evidence obtained in disregard of liberties deemed fundamental by the Constitution, cannot stand. Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616; Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383; Gouled v. United States, 255 U.S. 298; Amos v. United States, 255 U.S. 313; Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20; Byars v. United States, 273 U.S. 28; Grau v. United
In the view we take of the case, however, it becomes unnecessary to reach the Constitutional issue pressed upon us. For, while the power of this Court to undo convictions in state courts is limited to the enforcement of those "fundamental principles of liberty and justice," Hebert v. Louisiana, 272 U.S. 312, 316, which are secured by the Fourteenth Amendment, the scope of our reviewing power over convictions brought here from the federal courts is not confined to ascertainment of Constitutional validity. Judicial supervision of the administration of criminal justice in the federal courts implies the duty of establishing and maintaining civilized standards of procedure and evidence. Such standards are not satisfied merely by observance of those minimal historic safeguards for securing trial by reason which are summarized as "due process of law" and below which we reach what is really trial by force. Moreover, review by this Court of state action expressing its notion of what will best further its own security in the administration of criminal justice demands appropriate respect for the deliberative judgment of a state in so basic an exercise of its jurisdiction. Considerations of large policy in making the necessary accommodations in our federal system are wholly irrelevant
The principles governing the admissibility of evidence in federal criminal trials have not been restricted, therefore, to those derived solely from the Constitution. In the exercise of its supervisory authority over the administration of criminal justice in the federal courts, see Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, 341-42, this Court has, from the very beginning of its history, formulated rules of evidence to be applied in federal criminal prosecutions. E.g., Ex parte Bollman & Swartwout, 4 Cranch 75, 130-31; United States v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 610, 643-44; United States v. Furlong, 5 Wheat. 184, 199; United States v. Gooding, 12 Wheat. 460, 468-70; United States v. Wood, 14 Pet. 430; United States v. Murphy, 16 Pet. 203; Funk v. United States, 290 U.S. 371; Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7; see 1 Wigmore on Evidence (3d ed. 1940) pp. 170-97; Note, 47 Harv. L. Rev. 853.
Quite apart from the Constitution, therefore, we are constrained to hold that the evidence elicited from the petitioners in the circumstances disclosed here must be excluded. For in their treatment of the petitioners the arresting officers assumed functions which Congress has
The circumstances in which the statements admitted in evidence against the petitioners were secured reveal a plain disregard of the duty enjoined by Congress upon federal law officers. Freeman and Raymond McNabb were arrested in the middle of the night at their home. Instead of being brought before a United States commissioner or a judicial officer, as the law requires, in order to determine the sufficiency of the justification for their detention,
Unlike England, where the Judges of the King's Bench have prescribed rules for the interrogation of prisoners while in the custody of police officers,
In holding that the petitioners' admissions were improperly received in evidence against them, and that having been based on this evidence their convictions cannot stand, we confine ourselves to our limited function as the court of ultimate review of the standards formulated and applied by federal courts in the trial of criminal cases. We are not concerned with law enforcement practices except in so far as courts themselves become instruments of law enforcement. We hold only that a decent regard for the duty of courts as agencies of justice and custodians of liberty forbids that men should be convicted upon evidence secured under the circumstances revealed here. In so doing, we respect the policy which underlies Congressional legislation. The history of liberty has largely been the history of observance of procedural safeguards. And the effective administration of criminal justice hardly requires disregard of fair procedures imposed by law.
MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE REED, dissenting:
I find myself unable to agree with the opinion of the Court in this case. An officer of the United States was killed while in the performance of his duties. From the circumstances detailed in the Court's opinion, there was obvious reason to suspect that the petitioners here were implicated in firing the fatal shot from the dark. The arrests followed. As the guilty parties were known only to the McNabbs who took part in the assault at the burying
The cases just cited show that statements made while under interrogation may be used at a trial if it may fairly be said that the information was given voluntarily. A frank and free confession of crime by the culprit affords testimony of the highest credibility and of a character which may be verified easily. Equally frank responses to officers by innocent people arrested under misapprehension give the best basis for prompt discharge from custody. The realization of the convincing quality of a confession tempts officials to press suspects unduly for such statements. To guard accused persons against the danger of being forced to confess, the law admits confessions of guilt only when they are voluntarily made. While the connotation of voluntary is indefinite, it affords an understandable label under which can be readily classified the various acts of terrorism, promises, trickery and threats which have led this and other courts to refuse admission as evidence to confessions.
Were the Court today saying merely that in its judgment the confessions of the McNabbs were not voluntary, there would be no occasion for this single protest. A notation of dissent would suffice. The opinion, however, does more. Involuntary confessions are not constitutionally
Our police officers occasionally overstep legal bounds. This record does not show when the petitioners were taken before a committing magistrate. No point was made of the failure to commit by defendant or counsel. No opportunity was given to the officers to explain. Objection to the introduction of the confessions was made only on the ground that they were obtained through coercion. This was determined against the accused both by the court, when it appraised the fact as to the voluntary character of the confessions preliminarily to determining the legal question of their admissibility, and by the jury. The court saw and heard witnesses for the prosecution and the defense. The defendants did not take the stand before the jury. The uncontradicted evidence does not require a different conclusion. The officers of the Alcohol Tax Unit should not be disciplined by overturning this conviction.