MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Jesse Blackburn was tried in the Circuit Court of Colbert County, Alabama, on a charge of robbery, found guilty, and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. By far the most damaging piece of evidence against him was his confession, which he persistently maintained had not been made voluntarily.
The crime with which Blackburn was charged was the robbery of a mobile store on April 19, 1948. By that date Blackburn, a 24-year-old Negro, had suffered a lengthy siege of mental illness. He had served in the armed forces during World War II, but had been discharged in 1944 as permanently disabled by a psychosis. He was thereupon placed in an institution and given medical treatment over extended periods until February
This does not by any means end the record of Blackburn's history of mental illness. He was arrested shortly following the robbery, and some time after his confession on May 8, 1948, the Sheriff reported to the circuit judge that Blackburn had exhibited symptoms of insanity. The judge thereupon had Blackburn examined by three physicians, and after receiving their report he concluded that there was "reasonable ground to believe that the defendant was insane either at the time of the commission of [the] offense or at the present time." In accordance with the procedure prescribed by Alabama law,
At his trial, Blackburn entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. He testified that he could remember nothing about the alleged crime, the circumstances surrounding it, his arrest, his confession, his commitment to the State Hospital, or the early period of his treatment there. He denied the truth of the confession, but admitted that the signature on it appeared to be his. According to a 1944 Army medical report, one aspect of Blackburn's illness was recurrent "complete amnesia concerning his behaviour."
When the prosecutor proposed to introduce Blackburn's confession into evidence, his attorney objected, and the judge held a hearing to determine its admissibility. Blackburn's counsel submitted to the judge the depositions of two of the three doctors who had served on the lunacy commission and who had observed Blackburn during his period of treatment at the State Hospital. These depositions incorporated copies of three significant documents. The first was the court order directing examination of Blackburn by a lunacy commission. This order mentioned Blackburn's previous treatment in a mental ward and two of his prior commitments to mental institutions. The second paper was the lunacy commission's report, in which three state-employed doctors had expressed their opinion that Blackburn was insane both at the time of his admission to the hospital on July 29, 1948, and at the time of the robbery on April 19, 1948.
To counter this evidence, the prosecutor introduced the deposition of the third member of the lunacy commission, Dr. A. M. Richards, a general practitioner who had spent the previous twelve years treating mental patients and who was a staff member of the State Hospital. The doctor's answers to petitioner's interrogatories were in harmony with the depositions of Drs. Tarwater and Rowe: Dr. Richards acknowledged that he had served on the lunacy commission, that he had signed the report, and that he had concurred in the finding that Blackburn had been insane on the date of the crime. He disclaimed having any other information of value, and noted in response to a cross-interrogatory that Blackburn had been "up on the criminal ward and he was such a nuisance until I didn't see him often." In his answers to other cross-interrogatories, however, Dr. Richards executed an astonishing about-face by opining that Blackburn had been "normal" since he first saw him, that his mental
Evidence concerning the circumstances surrounding the making of the confession was supplied by the Chief Deputy Sheriff. He testified that the interrogation had consumed "something like, maybe five or six hours" on May 8, 1948, and that no one had threatened Blackburn in any way. The Chief Deputy composed the statement in narrative form on the basis of Blackburn's answers to the various questions asked by the officers, and Blackburn signed the confession two days later. When asked about Blackburn's behavior, the witness responded that Blackburn had "answered like any normal person I have examined." After the judge ruled that the confession would be admitted, but before it was actually admitted, the Chief Deputy described in somewhat greater detail— this time to the jury—the manner in which the confession had been obtained. It developed that the examination had begun at approximately one o'clock in the afternoon and had continued until ten or eleven o'clock that evening, with about an hour's break for dinner. Thus it was established that the questioning went on for eight or nine hours rather than five or six. Apparently most of the interrogation took place in closely confined quarters—a room about four by six or six by eight feet—in which as many as three officers had at times been present with Blackburn. The Chief Deputy conceded that Blackburn said he had been a patient in a mental institution, but claimed that Blackburn also stated he had been released, and avowed that Blackburn "talked sensible and give [sic] sensible answers," was clear-eyed, and did not appear nervous.
After according all of the deference to the trial judge's decision which is compatible with our duty to determine constitutional questions,
It is also established that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids "fundamental unfairness in the use of evidence, whether true or false." Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 236. Consequently, we have rejected the argument that introduction of an involuntary confession is immaterial where other evidence establishes guilt or corroborates the confession. E. g., Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315, 324; Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U.S. 560, 567-568; Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 50, n. 2; Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596, 599. As important as it is that persons who have committed crimes be convicted, there are considerations which transcend the question of guilt or innocence. Thus, in cases involving involuntary confessions, this Court enforces the strongly felt attitude of our society that important human values are sacrificed where an agency of the government, in the course of securing a conviction, wrings a confession out of an accused against his
But neither the likelihood that the confession is untrue nor the preservation of the individual's freedom of will is the sole interest at stake. As we said just last Term, "The abhorrence of society to the use of involuntary confessions. . . also turns on the deep-rooted feeling that the police must obey the law while enforcing the law; that in the end life and liberty can be as much endangered from illegal methods used to convict those thought to be criminals as from the actual criminals themselves." Spano v. New York, supra, at 320-321. Thus a complex of values underlies the stricture against use by the state of confessions which, by way of convenient shorthand, this Court terms involuntary, and the role played by each in any situation varies according to the particular circumstances of the case.
In the case at bar, the evidence indisputably establishes the strongest probability that Blackburn was insane and incompetent at the time he allegedly confessed. Surely in the present stage of our civilization a most basic sense of justice is affronted by the spectacle of incarcerating a human being upon the basis of a statement he made while insane; and this judgment can without difficulty be articulated in terms of the unreliability of the confession, the lack of rational choice of the accused, or simply a strong conviction that our system of law enforcement should not operate so as to take advantage of a person in this fashion. And when the other pertinent circumstances are considered—the eight-to nine-hour sustained interrogation in a tiny room which was upon occasion literally filled with police officers; the absence of Blackburn's friends, relatives, or legal counsel; the composition
It is, of course, quite true that we are dealing here with probabilities. It is possible, for example, that Blackburn confessed during a period of complete mental competence. Moreover, these probabilities are gauged in this instance primarily by the opinion evidence of medical experts. But this case is novel only in the sense that the evidence of insanity here is compelling, for this Court has in the past reversed convictions where psychiatric evidence revealed that the person who had confessed was "of low mentality, if not mentally ill," Fikes v. Alabama, supra, at 196, or had a "history of emotional instability," Spano v. New York, supra, at 322. And although facts such as youth and lack of education are more easily ascertained than the imbalance of a human mind,
Of course, this case is no different from other involuntary confession cases in another respect—where there is a genuine conflict of evidence great reliance must be placed upon the finder of fact. It is this proposition upon which respondent's principal argument rests, for the trial judge's decision is said to be inviolable because of an alleged conflict between the depositions of Dr. Richards on the one hand and Drs. Tarwater and Rowe on the other. We need not in this case consider the relevance
We take note also of respondent's argument that our decision must be predicated solely upon the evidence introduced by defendant before admission of the confession. As we have indicated, this evidence consisted of the depositions, the copies of the documents incorporated therein, and the testimony of the Chief Deputy. The other relevant evidence, which included the detailed medical record of Blackburn's mental illness prior to his arrest, was introduced at a later stage of the trial. It is quite true that Blackburn's counsel, so far as the record shows, made no request that the judge reconsider his
Even if respondent's argument were meritorious our decision would be the same, since the evidence introduced prior to admission of the confession was ample to establish its involuntariness. But we reject the notion that the scope of our review can be thus restricted. Where the involuntariness of a confession is conclusively demonstrated at any stage of a trial, the defendant is deprived of due process by entry of judgment of conviction without exclusion of the confession. An argument similar to respondent's was disposed of in Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, in the following words:
Just as in Brown, the evidence here clearly establishes that the confession most probably was not the product of any meaningful act of volition. Therefore, the use of this evidence to convict Blackburn transgressed the imperatives of fundamental justice which find their expression in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the judgment must be
MR. JUSTICE CLARK concurs in the result.