MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the right of a defendant in a criminal case under the
Petitioner, Jackie Washington, was convicted in Dallas County, Texas, of murder with malice and was sentenced by a jury to 50 years in prison. The prosecution's evidence showed that petitioner, an 18-year-old youth, had dated a girl named Jean Carter until her mother had forbidden her to see him. The girl thereafter began dating another boy, the deceased. Evidently motivated by jealousy, petitioner with several other boys began driving around the City of Dallas on the night of August 29, 1964, looking for a gun. The search eventually led to one Charles Fuller, who joined the group with his shotgun. After obtaining some shells from another source, the group of boys proceeded to Jean Carter's home, where Jean, her family and the deceased were having supper. Some of the boys threw bricks at the house and then ran back to the car, leaving petitioner and Fuller alone in front of the house with the shotgun. At the sound of the bricks the deceased and Jean Carter's mother rushed out on the porch to investigate. The shotgun was fired by either petitioner or Fuller, and the
Petitioner testified in his own behalf. He claimed that Fuller, who was intoxicated, had taken the gun from him, and that he had unsuccessfully tried to persuade Fuller to leave before the shooting. Fuller had insisted that he was going to shoot someone, and petitioner had run back to the automobile. He saw the girl's mother come out of the door as he began running, and he subsequently heard the shot. At the time, he had thought that Fuller had shot the woman. In support of his version of the facts, petitioner offered the testimony of Fuller. The record indicates that Fuller would have testified that petitioner pulled at him and tried to persuade him to leave, and that petitioner ran before Fuller fired the fatal shot.
It is undisputed that Fuller's testimony would have been relevant and material, and that it was vital to the defense. Fuller was the only person other than petitioner who knew exactly who had fired the shotgun and whether petitioner had at the last minute attempted to prevent the shooting. Fuller, however, had been previously convicted of the same murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison,
We have not previously been called upon to decide whether the right of an accused to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, guaranteed in federal trials by the Sixth Amendment, is so fundamental and essential to a fair trial that it is incorporated in the
The right of an accused to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor stands on no lesser footing than the other Sixth Amendment rights that we have previously held applicable to the States. This Court had occasion in In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257 (1948), to describe what it regarded as the most basic ingredients of due process of law. It observed that:
Since the right to compulsory process is applicable in this state proceeding, the question remains whether it was violated in the circumstances of this case. The testimony of Charles Fuller was denied to the defense not because the State refused to compel his attendance, but because a state statute made his testimony inadmissible whether he was present in the courtroom or not. We are thus called upon to decide whether the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right under any circumstances to put his witnesses on the stand, as well as the right to compel their attendance in court. The resolution of this question requires some discussion of the common-law context in which the Sixth Amendment was adopted.
Joseph Story, in his famous Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, observed that the right to compulsory process was included in the Bill of Rights in reaction to the notorious common-law rule that in cases of treason or felony the accused was not allowed to introduce witnesses in his defense at all.
Despite the abolition of the rule generally disqualifying defense witnesses, the common law retained a number of restrictions on witnesses who were physically and mentally capable of testifying. To the extent that they were applicable, they had the same effect of suppressing the truth that the general proscription had had. Defendants and codefendants were among the large class of witnesses disqualified from testifying on the ground of interest.
The federal courts followed the common-law restrictions for a time, despite the Sixth Amendment. In United States v. Reid, 12 How. 361 (1852), the question was whether one of two defendants jointly indicted for murder on the high seas could call the other as a witness. Although this Court expressly recognized that the Sixth Amendment was designed to abolish some of the harsh rules of the common law, particularly including the refusal to allow the defendant in a serious criminal case to present witnesses in his defense,
Although Rosen v. United States rested on nonconstitutional grounds, we believe that its reasoning was required by the Sixth Amendment. In light of the common-law history, and in view of the recognition in the Reid case that the Sixth Amendment was designed in part to make the testimony of a defendant's witnesses admissible on his behalf in court, it could hardly be argued that a State would not violate the clause if it made all defense testimony inadmissible as a matter of procedural law. It is difficult to see how the Constitution is any less violated by arbitrary rules that prevent whole categories of defense witnesses from testifying on the basis of a priori categories that presume them unworthy of belief.
The rule disqualifying an alleged accomplice from testifying on behalf of the defendant cannot even be defended on the ground that it rationally sets apart a group of persons who are particularly likely to commit perjury. The absurdity of the rule is amply demonstrated by the exceptions that have been made to it. For example, the accused accomplice may be called by the prosecution to testify against the defendant.
We hold that the petitioner in this case was denied his right to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor because the State arbitrarily denied him the right to put on the stand a witness who was physically and mentally capable of testifying to events that he had personally observed, and whose testimony would have been relevant and material to the defense.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring in the result.
For reasons that I have stated in my concurring opinion in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 349, and in my opinion concurring in the result in Pointer v. Texas,
I concur in the result in this case because I believe that the State may not constitutionally forbid the petitioner, a criminal defendant, from introducing on his own behalf the important testimony of one indicted in connection with the same offense, who would not, however, be barred from testifying if called by the prosecution. Texas has put forward no justification for this type of discrimination between the prosecution and the defense in the ability to call the same person as a witness, and I can think of none.
In my opinion this is not, then, really a problem of "compulsory process" at all, although the Court's incorporationist approach leads it to strain this constitutional provision to reach these peculiar statutes. Neither is it a situation in which the State has determined, as a matter of valid state evidentiary law, on the basis of general experience with a particular class of persons, as for example, the mentally incompetent
On this premise I concur in the reversal of the judgment of conviction.
"Persons charged as principals, accomplices or accessories, whether in the same or different indictments, cannot be introduced as witnesses for one another, but they may claim a severance; and, if any one or more be acquitted, or the prosecution against them be dismissed, they may testify in behalf of the others." Tex. Code Crim. Proc., Art. 711 (1925).
These statutory provisions were apparently repealed by implication by Art. 36.09 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure of 1965, which became effective after petitioner's trial. Article 36.09 provides that "Two or more defendants who are jointly or separately indicted or complained against for the same offense or an offense growing out of the same transaction may be, in the discretion of the court, tried jointly or separately as to one or more defendants; provided that in any event either defendant may testify for the other or on behalf of the State . . . ."
Counsel have cited no statutes from other jurisdictions, and we have found none, that flatly disqualify coparticipants in a crime from testifying for each other regardless of whether they are tried jointly or separately. To be distinguished are statutes providing that one of two or more defendants tried jointly may, if the evidence against him is insufficient, be entitled to an immediate acquittal so he may testify for the others. These statutes seem designed to allow such joint defendants to testify without incriminating themselves. See, e. g., Ala. Code, Tit. 15, § 309 (1958); Alaska Code Crim. Proc. § 12.20.060 (1962); Kan. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 62-1440 (1964).