Harrison v. United States
392 U.S. 219 (1968)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219 (1968)

Harrison v. United States

No. 876

Argued April 4, 1968

Decided June 10, 1968

392 U.S. 219

Syllabus

At petitioner's trial for murder, the prosecution introduced three in-custody confessions in which petitioner allegedly admitted the shotgun slaying of a man whom petitioner and two others had intended to rob. Following the admission of those confessions into evidence, petitioner (whose counsel's opening statement to the jury had announced that petitioner would not testify) took the stand. He testified that he and two companions had gone to the victim's house hoping to pawn a shotgun which accidentally killed the victim while petitioner was presenting it to him for inspection. Petitioner was found guilty, but the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that his confessions had been illegally obtained, and were hence inadmissible. On retrial, the prosecutor read to the jury petitioner's previous trial testimony (placing petitioner, shotgun in hand, at the scene of the killing), which was admitted into evidence over petitioner's objection that he had been induced to testify at the prior trial only because of the introduction against him of the inadmissible confessions. Petitioner was again convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, relying on the fact that petitioner "made a conscious tactical decision to seek acquittal by taking the stand after [his] in-custody statements had been let in. . . ."

Held: Petitioner's testimony at the former trial was inadmissible in the later proceeding because it was the fruit of the illegally procured confessions. Pp. 392 U. S. 222-226.

(a) The same principle that prohibits the use of illegally obtained confessions likewise prohibits the use of any testimony impelled thereby, and if petitioner decided to testify in order to overcome the impact of those confessions, the testimony he gave was tainted by the same illegality that rendered the confessions themselves inadmissible. Pp. 392 U. S. 222-224.

(b) Having illegally placed petitioner's confessions before the jury in the first place, the Government cannot demand that petitioner demonstrate that he would not have testified as he did if his inadmissible confessions had not been used; instead, the Government must show that its illegal action did not induce petitioner's testimony, and no such showing was made here. Pp. 392 U. S. 224-225.

Page 392 U. S. 220

(c) Even if petitioner would have decided to testify in any event, the natural inference, which the Government has not dispelled, is that he would not have made the damaging admission he did make on the witness stand had his confessions not already been spread before the jury. Pp. 392 U. S. 225-226.

128 U.S.App.D.C. 245, 387 F.2d 203, reversed.

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