Lisenba v. California
314 U.S. 219 (1941)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219 (1941)

Lisenba v. California

Nos. 4 and 5

Reargued October 14, 15, 1941

Decided December 8, 1941

314 U.S. 219

Syllabus

1. The claim that discrimination by police officers in treating some persons illegally and others legally violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment held unsupported. P. 314 U. S. 226.

2. In the sentencing of accomplices, the practice of taking into consideration their aid to the State as witnesses involves no denial of due process to a convicted confederate. P. 314 U. S. 227.

3. Whether the testimony of an accomplice in this case was corroborated as required by the state law was a question for decision by the courts of the State. P. 314 U. S. 227.

4. Where it was alleged as a basis of release by habeas corpus in a state court that testimony of an accomplice leading to the conviction of the petitioner was known by the prosecuting officers to be false and was induced by their promises and threats, and affidavits of the accomplice, made several years after the trial, were produced to substantiate the allegation, the appraisal of the affidavits with other conflicting evidence in the record was a matter for the state courts. P. 314 U. S. 226.

5. The admissibility in a murder trial of evidence of another similar crime, to establish intent, design and system on the part of the accused, is left by the Fourteenth Amendment to be determined by the state law and the state courts. P. 314 U. S. 227.

6. Action of state courts in denying a continuance to an accused in a criminal trial held not reviewable by this Court under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 314 U. S. 228.

7. Where it was part of the State's case that live rattlesnakes were to be used in pursuance of a conspiracy to murder, and two such snakes were brought to the courtroom to be identified by a witness who sold them to one of the conspirators, the propriety of admitting such evidence was for the state courts to decide; the claim that its introduction made the trial so unfair as to deny due process of law, is unsound. P. 314 U. S. 228.

8. The fact that a person accused of a state offense was, some time before making a confession, subjected to restraints and other acts of state officers which were in themselves breaches of the state law and possible violations of due process, may be relevant to the question

Page 314 U. S. 220

whether the use of the confession at his trial was a denial of due process, but is not conclusive of that issue. P. 314 U. S. 235.

9. The fact that a confession has been conclusively adjudged by the state courts to be admissible in evidence under the state law does not answer the question whether, in view of the circumstances in which it was made, its use at the trial was a denial of due process. P. 314 U. S. 236.

10. The state rule against admitting a confession which was not voluntarily made seeks to exclude false evidence. The aim of due process in forbidding its use is to prevent fundamental unfairness of using such evidence, whether true or false. The criteria for decision in the one case or the other may or may not be the same, according to the circumstances. P. 314 U. S. 236.

11. To determine a claim that due process was violated by the use in evidence in a state court of a confession alleged to have been obtained by coercion or promises, this Court must make an independent examination of the record. P. 314 U. S. 237.

12. The Court is unable to find that the confessions in this case were induced by coercion or promises, and that their use in evidence therefore vitiated the trial, the evidence being conflicting and the state tribunals having found that the confessions were free and voluntary, and were therefore admissible under the state law, and the state supreme court having also found that their use conformed to due process. P. 314 U. S. 238.

13. Where a prisoner held incommunicado is subjected to questioning by officers for long periods, and deprived of the advice of counsel, the Court will scrutinize the record with care to determine whether the use of his confession was contrary to due process. P. 240.

14. On the facts, and in the light of the findings in the state courts, this Court cannot hold that the illegal conduct in which the law enforcement officers of California indulged by the prolonged questioning of the prisoner before arraignment and in the absence of counsel, or their later questioning coerced the confessions the use of which is complained of as an infringement of due process. P. 314 U. S. 240.

89 P.2d 39; 14 Cal.2d 403, 94 P.2d 569, affirmed.

CERTIORARI, 311 U.S. 617, to review the affirmance of a sentence for murder and a judgment denying the writ of habeas corpus. The cases were argued together at the last term, and the judgments were affirmed by an

Page 314 U. S. 221

equally divided Court, 313 U.S. 537. A petition for rehearing before a full Court was granted; the affirmances were set aside, and the cases were restored to the docket for reargument, 313 U.S. 597.

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