Chambers v. Mississippi - 410 U.S. 284 (1973)


U.S. Supreme Court

Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973)

Chambers v. Mississippi

No. 71-5908

Argued November 15, 1972

Decided February 21, 1973

410 U.S. 284

Syllabus

After petitioner was arrested for murder, another person (McDonald) made, but later repudiated, a written confession. On three separate occasions, each time to a different friend, McDonald orally admitted the killing. Petitioner was convicted of the murder in a trial that he claimed was lacking in due process because petitioner was not allowed to (1) cross-examine McDonald (whom petitioner had called as a witness when the State failed to do so), since, under Mississippi's common law "voucher" rule, a party may not impeach his own witness, or (2) introduce the testimony of the three persons to whom McDonald had confessed, the trial court having ruled their testimony inadmissible as hearsay. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: Under the facts and circumstances of this case, petitioner was denied a fair trial, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 410 U. S. 294-303.

(a) The application of the "voucher" rule prevented petitioner, through cross-examination of McDonald, from exploring the circumstances of McDonald's three prior oral confessions and challenging his renunciation of the written confession, and thus deprived petitioner of the right to contradict testimony that was clearly "adverse." Pp. 410 U. S. 295-298.

(b) The trial court erred in excluding McDonald's hearsay statements, which were critical to petitioner's defense and which bore substantial assurances of trustworthiness, including that each was made spontaneously to a close acquaintance, that each was corroborated by other evidence in the case, that each was in a real sense against McDonald's interest, and that McDonald was present and available for cross-examination by the State. Pp. 410 U. S. 298-303.

252 So.2d 217, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 410 U. S. 303. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 410 U. S. 308.

Page 410 U. S. 285



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