MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner, Leon Chambers, was tried by a jury in a Mississippi trial court and convicted of murdering a policeman. The jury assessed punishment at life imprisonment, and the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed, one justice dissenting. 252 So.2d 217 (1971). Pending disposition of his application for certiorari to this Court, petitioner was granted bail by order of the Circuit Justice, dated February 1, 1972. Two weeks later, on the State's request for reconsideration, that order was reaffirmed. 405 U.S. 1205 (1972). Subsequently, the petition for certiorari was granted, 405 U.S. 987 (1972), to consider whether petitioner's trial was conducted in accord with principles of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. We conclude that it was not.
The events that led to petitioner's prosecution for murder occurred in the small town of Woodville in southern Mississippi. On Saturday evening, June 14, 1969, two Woodville policemen, James Forman and Aaron "Sonny" Liberty, entered a local bar and pool hall to execute a warrant for the arrest of a youth named C. C. Jackson. Jackson resisted and a hostile crowd of some 50 or 60 persons gathered. The officers' first attempt to handcuff Jackson was frustrated when 20 or 25 men in the crowd intervened and wrestled him
Officer Forman could not see from his vantage point who shot Liberty or whether Liberty's shots hit anyone. One of the deputy sheriffs testified at trial that he was standing several feet from Liberty and that he saw Chambers shoot him. Another deputy sheriff stated that, although he could not see whether Chambers had a gun in his hand, he did see Chambers "break his arm down" shortly before the shots were fired. The officers who saw Chambers fall testified that they thought he was dead but they made no effort at that time either to examine him or to search for the murder weapon. Instead, they attended to Liberty, who was placed in the police car and taken to a hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. A subsequent autopsy showed that he had been hit with four bullets from a .22-caliber revolver.
Shortly after the shooting, three of Chambers' friends
The story of Leon Chambers is intertwined with the story of another man, Gable McDonald. McDonald, a lifelong resident of Woodville, was in the crowd on the evening of Liberty's death. Sometime shortly after that day, he left his wife in Woodville and moved to Louisiana and found a job at a sugar mill. In November of that same year, he returned to Woodville when his wife informed him that an acquaintance of his, known as Reverend Stokes, wanted to see him. Stokes owned a gas station in Natchez, Mississippi, several miles north of Woodville, and upon his return McDonald went to see him. After talking to Stokes, McDonald agreed to make a statement to Chambers' attorneys, who maintained offices in Natchez. Two days later, he appeared at the attorneys offices and gave a sworn confession that he shot Officer Liberty. He also stated that he had already told a friend of his, James Williams, that he shot Liberty. He said that he used his own pistol, a nine-shot .22-caliber revolver, which he had discarded shortly after the shooting. In response to questions from Chambers' attorneys, McDonald affirmed that his confession was voluntary and that no one had compelled him to come to them. Once the confession had been transcribed,
One month later, at a preliminary hearing, McDonald repudiated his prior sworn confession. He testified that Stokes had persuaded him to confess that he shot Liberty. He claimed that Stokes had promised that he would not go to jail and that he would share in the proceeds of a lawsuit that Chambers would bring against the town of Woodville. On examination by his own attorney and on cross-examination by the State, McDonald swore that he had not been at the scene when Liberty was shot but had been down the street drinking beer in a cafe with a friend, Berkley Turner. When he and Turner heard the shooting, he testified, they walked up the street and found Chambers lying in the alley. He, Turner, and Williams took Chambers to the hospital. McDonald further testified at the preliminary hearing that he did not know what had happened, that there was no discussion about the shooting either going to or coming back from the hospital, and that it was not until the next day that he learned that Chambers had been felled by a blast from Liberty's riot gun. In addition, McDonald stated that while he once owned a .22-caliber pistol he had lost it many months before the shooting and did not own or possess a weapon at that time. The local justice of the peace accepted McDonald's repudiation and released him from custody. The local authorities undertook no further investigation of his possible involvement.
Chambers' case came on for trial in October of the next year.
Petitioner's second defense was that Gable McDonald had shot Officer Liberty. He was only partially successful, however, in his efforts to bring before the jury the testimony supporting this defense. Sam Hardin, a lifelong friend of McDonald's, testified that he saw McDonald shoot Liberty. A second witness, one of Liberty's cousins, testified that he saw McDonald immediately after the shooting with a pistol in his hand. In addition to the testimony of these two witnesses, Chambers endeavored to show the jury that McDonald had repeatedly confessed to the crime. Chambers attempted to prove that McDonald had admitted responsibility for the murder on four separate occasions, once when he gave the sworn statement to Chambers' counsel and three other times prior to that occasion in private conversations with friends.
In large measure, he was thwarted in his attempt to present this portion of his defense by the strict application of certain Mississippi rules of evidence. Chambers asserts in this Court, as he did unsuccessfully in his motion for new trial and on appeal to the State Supreme Court, that the application of these evidentiary rules rendered
Chambers filed a pretrial motion requesting the court to order McDonald to appear. Chambers also sought a ruling at that time that, if the State itself chose not to call McDonald, he be allowed to call him as an adverse witness. Attached to the motion were copies of McDonald's sworn confession and of the transcript of his preliminary hearing at which he repudiated that confession. The trial court granted the motion requiring McDonald to appear but reserved ruling on the adverse-witness motion. At trial, after the State failed to put McDonald on the stand, Chambers called McDonald, laid a predicate for the introduction of his sworn out-of-court confession, had it admitted into evidence, and read it to the jury. The State, upon cross-examination, elicited from McDonald the fact that he had repudiated his prior confession. McDonald further testified, as he had at the preliminary hearing, that he did not shoot Liberty, and that he confessed to the crime only on the promise of Reverend Stokes that he would not go to jail and would share in a sizable tort recovery from the town. He also retold his own story of his actions on the evening of the shooting, including his visit to the cafe down the street, his absence from the scene during the critical period, and his subsequent trip to the hospital with Chambers.
At the conclusion of the State's cross-examination, Chambers renewed his motion to examine McDonald as an adverse witness. The trial court denied the motion, stating: "He may be hostile, but he is not adverse in the sense of the word, so your request will be overruled." On appeal, the State Supreme Court upheld the trial
Defeated in his attempt to challenge directly McDonald's renunciation of his prior confession, Chambers sought to introduce the testimony of the three witnesses to whom McDonald had admitted that he shot the officer. The first of these, Sam Hardin, would have testified that, on the night of the shooting, he spent the late evening hours with McDonald at a friend's house after their return from the hospital and that, while driving McDonald home later that night, McDonald stated that he shot Liberty. The State objected to the admission of this testimony on the ground that it was hearsay. The trial court sustained the objection.
Berkley Turner, the friend with whom McDonald said he was drinking beer when the shooting occurred, was then called to testify. In the jury's presence, and without objection, he testified that he had not been in the cafe that Saturday and had not had any beers with McDonald. The jury was then excused. In the absence of the jury, Turner recounted his conversations with McDonald while they were riding with James Williams to take Chambers to the hospital. When asked whether McDonald said anything regarding the shooting of Liberty, Turner testified that McDonald told him that he "shot him." Turner further stated that one week later, when he met McDonald at a friend's house, McDonald reminded him of their prior conversation and urged Turner not to "mess him up." Petitioner argued to the court that, especially where there was other proof
The third witness, Albert Carter, was McDonald's neighbor. They had been friends for about 25 years. Although Carter had not been in Woodville on the evening of the shooting, he stated that he learned about it the next morning from McDonald. That same day, he and McDonald walked out to a well near McDonald's house and there McDonald told him that he was the one who shot Officer Liberty. Carter testified that McDonald also told him that he had disposed of the .22-caliber revolver later that night. He further testified that several weeks after the shooting, he accompanied McDonald to Natchez where McDonald purchased another .22 pistol to replace the one he had discarded.
The right of an accused in a criminal trial to due process is, in essence, the right to a fair opportunity to defend against the State's accusations. The rights to confront and cross-examine witnesses and to call witnesses in one's own behalf have long been recognized as essential to due process. Mr. Justice Black, writing for the Court in In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 273 (1948), identified these rights as among the minimum essentials of a fair trial:
Chambers was denied an opportunity to subject McDonald's damning repudiation and alibi to cross-examination. He was not allowed to test the witness' recollection, to probe into the details of his alibi, or to "sift" his conscience so that the jury might judge for itself whether McDonald's testimony was worthy of belief. Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 242-243 (1895). The right of cross-examination is more than a desirable rule of trial procedure. It is implicit in the constitutional right of confrontation, and helps assure the "accuracy of the truth-determining process." Dutton v. Evans, 400 U.S. 74, 89 (1970); Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 135-137 (1968). It is, indeed, "an essential and fundamental requirement for the kind of fair trial which is this country's constitutional goal." Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 405 (1965). Of course, the right to confront and to cross-examine is not absolute and may, in appropriate cases, bow to accommodate other legitimate interests in the criminal trial process. E. g., Mancusi v. Stubbs, 408 U.S. 204 (1972). But its denial or significant diminution calls into question the ultimate " `integrity of the fact-finding process' " and requires that the competing interest be closely examined. Berger v. California, 393 U.S. 314, 315 (1969).
In this case, petitioner's request to cross-examine McDonald was denied on the basis of a Mississippi common-law rule that a party may not impeach his own witness. The rule rests on the presumption—without regard to the circumstances of the particular case—that a party who calls a witness "vouches for his credibility."
Whatever validity the "voucher" rule may have once enjoyed, and apart from whatever usefulness it retains today in the civil trial process, it bears little present relationship to the realities of the criminal process.
In this Court, Mississippi has not sought to defend the rule or explain its underlying rationale. Nor has it contended that its rule should override the accused's right of confrontation. Instead, it argues that there is no incompatibility between the rule and Chambers' rights because no right of confrontation exists unless the testifying witness is "adverse" to the accused. The State's brief asserts that the "right of confrontation applies to witnesses `against' an accused."
The argument that McDonald's testimony was not "adverse" to, or "against," Chambers is not convincing. The State's proof at trial excluded the theory that more than one person participated in the shooting of Liberty. To the extent that McDonald's sworn confession tended to incriminate him, it tended also to exculpate Chambers.
We need not decide, however, whether this error alone would occasion reversal since Chambers' claimed denial of due process rests on the ultimate impact of that error when viewed in conjunction with the trial court's refusal to permit him to call other witnesses. The trial court refused to allow him to introduce the testimony of Hardin, Turner, and Carter. Each would have testified to the statements purportedly made by McDonald, on three separate occasions shortly after the crime, naming himself as the murderer. The State Supreme Court approved the exclusion of this evidence on the ground that it was hearsay.
The hearsay rule, which has long been recognized and respected by virtually every State, is based on experience and grounded in the notion that untrustworthy evidence should not be presented to the triers of fact. Out-of-court statements are traditionally excluded because they lack the conventional indicia of reliability: they are usually not made under oath or other circumstances that impress the speaker with the solemnity of his statements; the declarant's word is not subject to cross-examination; and he is not available in order that his demeanor and credibility may be assessed by the jury. California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 158 (1970). A number of exceptions have developed over the years to allow admission
This materialistic limitation on the declaration-against-interest hearsay exception appears to be accepted by most States in their criminal trial processes,
The hearsay statements involved in this case were originally made and subsequently offered at trial under circumstances that provided considerable assurance of their reliability. First, each of McDonald's confessions was made spontaneously to a close acquaintance shortly after the murder had occurred. Second, each one was corroborated by some other evidence in the case— McDonald's sworn confession, the testimony of an eye-witness to the shooting, the testimony that McDonald was seen with a gun immediately after the shooting, and proof of his prior ownership of a .22-caliber revolver and subsequent purchase of a new weapon. The sheer number of independent confessions provided additional corroboration for each. Third, whatever may be the parameters of the penal-interest rationale,
We conclude that the exclusion of this critical evidence, coupled with the State's refusal to permit Chambers to cross-examine McDonald, denied him a trial in accord with traditional and fundamental standards of due process. In reaching this judgment, we establish no new principles of constitutional law. Nor does our holding signal any diminution in the respect traditionally accorded to the States in the establishment and implementation of their own criminal trial rules and
The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the Supreme Court of Mississippi for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.
We would not ordinarily expect an appellate court in the state or federal system to remain silent on a constitutional issue requiring decision in the case before it. Normally, a court's silence on an important question would simply indicate that it was unnecessary to decide the issue because it was not properly before the court or for some other reason. As my Brother REHNQUIST points out, the Court stated in Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576, 582 (1969), that "when . . . the highest state court has failed to pass upon a federal question, it will be assumed that the omission was due to want of proper presentation in the state courts, unless the aggrieved party in this Court can affirmatively show the contrary."
Under this rule it becomes the petitioner's burden to demonstrate that under the applicable state law his claim was properly before the state court and was therefore necessarily rejected, although silently, by affirmance of the judgment. If he fails to do so, we need not entertain and decide the federal question that he presses.
It is not our invariable practice, however, that we will not ourselves canvass state law to determine whether the federal question, presented to but not discussed by the state supreme court, was properly raised in accordance with state procedures. The Court surveyed state law in Street, itself, with little if any help from the appellant; and I think it is appropriate here where the State does not contest our jurisdiction and seemingly
There is little doubt that Mississippi ordinarily enforces a rule of contemporaneous objection with respect to evidence; the three opinions in Henry v. State, 253 Miss. 263, 154 So.2d 289 (1963); 253 Miss. 283, 174 So.2d 348 (1965); 198 So.2d 213 (1967), make this sufficiently clear. Also, that case came here, and we not only noted the existence of the rule but recognized that it served a legitimate state interest. Henry v. Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443 (1965). The same rule obtains where the proponent of evidence claims error in its exclusion:
There are Mississippi cases stating that in proper circumstances the contemporaneous-objection rule will not be enforced and that the State Supreme Court in some circumstances will consider an issue raised there for the first time. In Carter v. State, 198 Miss. 523, 21 So.2d 404 (1945), the only issue in the appellate court concerned appellant's mental condition at the time of the crime, an issue not raised at trial. The court said "[t]he rule that questions not raised in the trial court cannot be raised for the first time on appeal, is not without exceptions, among which are errors `affecting fundamental rights of the parties . . . or affecting
The reach of these cases was left in doubt when, in affirming the judgment in Henry v. State, 253 Miss. 263, 154 So.2d 289 (1963), the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to consider a claim of illegally obtained evidence because the matter had not been presented to the trial court. The case did not come within Brooks v. State, supra, the court ruled, because Henry's counsel were experienced and adequate, and Henry was bound by their mistakes. This Court vacated that judgment and remanded for determination whether there had been a deliberate bypass, reading Mississippi law as extending no discretion to give relief from the contemporaneous-objection rule where "petitioner was represented by competent local counsel familiar with local procedure." Henry v. Mississippi, 379 U. S., at 449 n. 5. In its initial opinion on remand, the Supreme Court of Mississippi reasserted the necessity to object at the time testimony is offered in the trial court, but it said "[n]evertheless if it appears to the trial judge that the
In King v. State, 230 So.2d 209, 211 (1970), this statement from the 1965 Henry opinion was interpreted as giving the Supreme Court of the State, as well as the trial court, sufficient latitude to treat the request for a peremptory instruction to the jury after failure to object to the introduction of allegedly illegally obtained evidence as if the appellant had made timely objection.
Moreover, in Wood v. State, 257 So.2d 193, 200 (1972), where a convicted defendant complained of a wide-ranging and allegedly unfair cross-examination of defense witnesses, and where there had been a failure to object to part of the prejudicial inquiry, the State Supreme Court nevertheless considered the question, stating: "We note also that no objection was made to the testimony of Donald Ray Boyd when he was asked whether he had ever been in jail. However, it was stated in Brooks, supra, that in extreme cases a failure to object to questions which were violative of a constitutional right did not in all events have to be objected to before they would receive consideration by this Court. The appellant in this case was being tried for murder. The evidence of defendant's guilt was extremely close. A shred of evidence one way or the other could have been persuasive to the jury. In our opinion, this warrants our
These cases seemingly preserve some aspects of the Brooks rule, and hence anticipate some situations where the contemporaneous-objection requirement will not be enforced, despite Henry. There will be occasions where the Supreme Court of Mississippi will consider constitutional claims made in that court for the first time.
Where this leaves the matter of our jurisdiction in the light of decisions such as Williams v. Georgia, 349 U.S. 375 (1955), is not clear. There, while acknowledging that motions for a new trial after final judgment were not favored in Georgia, the Court recognized that such motions had been granted in "exceptional" or "extraordinary" cases, their availability being within the well-informed discretion of the courts. It was claimed that denying Williams' motion was an adequate state ground precluding review here, but "since his motion was based upon a constitutional objection, and one the validity of which has in principle been sustained here, the discretionary decision to deny the motion does not deprive this Court of jurisdiction to find that the substantive issue is properly before us." Id., at 389.
In the circumstances before us, where there were repeated offers of evidence and objections to its exclusion, although not on constitutional grounds, where the matter was presented in federal due process terms to the State Supreme Court and where the State does not now deny that the issue was properly before the state court and could have been considered by it, I am inclined, although
As to the merits, I would join in the Court's opinion and judgment.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
Were I to reach the merits in this case, I would have considerable difficulty in subscribing to the Court's further constitutionalization of the intricacies of the common law of evidence. I do not reach the merits, since I conclude that petitioner failed to properly raise in the Mississippi courts the constitutional issue that he seeks to have this Court decide.
Title 28 U. S. C. § 1257 provides in pertinent part as follows:
We deal here with a limitation imposed by Congress upon this Court's authority to review judgments of state courts. It is a jurisdictional limitation, Cardinale v. Louisiana, 394 U.S. 437, 438 (1969), that has always been interpreted with careful regard for the delicate nature of the authority conferred upon this Court to review the judgments of state courts of last resort:
In Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576 (1969), cited by the Court in its n. 3, the following language from the earlier case of New York ex rel. Bryant v. Zimmerman, 278 U.S. 63, 67 (1928), was quoted:
The question of whether a constitutional issue has been raised in "due time" in the state courts is one generally left to state procedure, subject to the important condition that the state procedure give no indication "that there was an attempt on the part of the state court to evade the decision of Federal questions, duly set up, by unwarranted resort to alleged rules under local practice." Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Woodford, 234 U.S. 46, 51 (1914). More recently, the Court has stated in Henry v. Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443, 447 (1965) that:
Since the Court in Henry was dealing with a rule of trial procedure from the State of Mississippi, its analysis in that case is particularly helpful in deciding this one. It was conceded by all parties there that the Mississippi
In that case, the petitioner had made his motion to exclude the evidence at the close of the State's case, and this Court observed that a ruling on the motion at that point would very likely have prevented the possibility of reversal and new trial just as surely as a ruling on a motion made contemporaneously with the offer of the evidence.
Here, however, the record of the state proceedings shows that the first occasion on which petitioner's counsel even hinted that his previous evidentiary objection had a constitutional basis was at the time he filed a motion for new trial. By delaying his constitutional contention until after the evidence was in and the jury had retired and returned a verdict of guilty against him, petitioner denied the trial court an opportunity to reconsider its evidentiary ruling in the light of the constitutional objection. While this Court in Henry expressed doubt as to the adequacy for federal purposes of Mississippi's differing treatment of a motion to exclude at the close of the State's case and an objection made contemporaneously with the offer of the evidence, there can be no doubt that the policy supporting Mississippi's requirement of contemporaneous objection cannot be served equally well by a motion for new trial following the rendition of the jury's verdict.
Concluding from an examination of the opinion of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia that although appellant had raised his constitutional claim there, it had not been passed upon by that court, this Court held that the "appeal must be dismissed for want of any properly presented substantial federal question." Id., at 207.
Neither the majority nor the dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court of Mississippi contain one syllable that refers expressly or by implication to any claim based on the Constitution of the United States. Those opinions did, of course, treat the evidentiary objections and proffers
This Court said in Street v. New York:
If, by some extraordinarily lenient construction of the decisional requirement that the constitutional claim be made "in due time" in the state proceedings, the making of such a claim for the first time in a motion for a new trial were deemed timely, it is still extraordinarily doubtful that this petitioner adequately raised any constitutional claims in his motion for new trial. That motion consisted of the following pertinent points:
It would have to be an extraordinarily perceptive trial judge who could glean from this motion that the separately stated third and fourth points, dealing as they do in customary terms of claims of trial error in the exclusion or admission of evidence, were intended to be bolstered by the generalized assertion of the violation of due process contained in a separately stated point. The contention of the sixth point, standing by itself, that "the trial of the Defendant was not in accord with fundamental fairness guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States" directs the trial court to no particular ruling or decision that he may have made during the trial; it is a bald assertion that the trial from beginning to end was somehow fundamentally unfair. Even the most lenient construction of that part of 28 U. S. C. § 1257 that requires that the "title, right, privilege or immunity" be "specially set up or claimed" could not aid petitioner in his claim that this point properly raised a federal constitutional issue.
This Court under the Constitution has the extraordinarily delicate but equally necessary authority to review judgments of state courts of last resort on issues that turn on construction of the United States Constitution or federal law. But before we undertake to tell a
Unlike Henry v. Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443 (1965), this case does not involve the state procedural requirement of contemporaneous objection to the admission of evidence. Petitioner's contention, asserted before the trial court on motion for new trial and subsequently before the Mississippi Supreme Court, is that he was denied "fundamental fairness guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment" as a result of several evidentiary rulings. His claim, the substance of which we accept in this opinion, rests on the cumulative effect of those rulings in frustrating his efforts to develop an exculpatory defense. Although he objected to each ruling individually, petitioner's constitutional claim—based as it is on the cumulative impact of the rulings—could not have been raised and ruled upon prior to the conclusion of Chambers' evidentiary presentation. Since the State has not asserted any independent state procedural ground as a basis for not reaching the merits of petitioner's constitutional claim, we have no occasion to decide whether—if such a ground exists—its imposition in this case would serve any "legitimate state interest." Id., at 447. Under these circumstances, we cannot doubt the propriety of our exercise of jurisdiction.
"If the rule were changed, A could be charged with the crime; B could tell C and D that he committed the crime; B could go into hiding and at A's trial C and D would testify as to B's admission of guilt; A could be acquitted and B would return to stand trial; B could then provide several witnesses to testify as to his whereabouts at the time of the crime. The testimony of those witnesses along with A's statement that he really committed the crime could result in B's acquittal. A would be barred from further prosecution because of the protection against double jeopardy. No one could be convicted of perjury as A did not testify at his first trial, B did not lie under oath, and C and D were truthful in their testimony." Brief for Respondent 7 n. 3 (emphasis supplied).
Obviously, B's absence at trial is critical to the success of the justice-subverting ploy.