389 U.S. 921 (1967)

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U.S. Supreme Court


389 U.S. 921

Raymond Marty HAMILTON, petitioner, v. CALIFORNIA. No. 30, Misc.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 23, 1967

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen. of California, and Edsel W. Haws and Daniel J. Kremer, Deputy Attys. Gen., for respondent.

Petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of California.


Mr. Justice FORTAS, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice MARSHALL join, dissenting.

While petitioner was in custody on a murder charge, he sent a note to an inspector in the District Attorney's office requesting a meeting. The inspector met petitioner in a room on the mezzanine of the county jail. Faced with a possible death penalty,1 petitioner said he would give some information 'if he were allowed to plead guilty [before a certain judge] and receive a life sentence.' The inspector testified and recounted this offer of compromise to the jury. [Footnote 2]

Before the inspector's evidence was introduced, but while the inspector was on the stand, petitioner asked

Page 389 U.S. 921 , 922

for an offer of proof by the prosecutor out of the jury's presence. The request was denied. Immediately after the inspector told about the offer to plead guilty, petitioner moved to strike the evidence. The motion was denied.

It is not uncommon for defendants or their lawyers to negotiate with prosecutors about pleading guilty. It is entirely possible that, in the hopelessness and loneliness of jail, faced with a charge of murder, a prisoner may discuss a bargain-deal with the prosecutor even if he is not guilty of the offense. In any event, the defendant's attempt to negotiate may well be accepted by the jury as a convincing admission of guilt. There is, in reality, no way in which the jury can be persuaded that the ugly inference of guilt is not to be drawn from his statement, however equivocal may have been his intent in making it. Usually, the accused cannot take the stand to explain the circumstances without peril.

We should consider whether we should not, in any event, prohibit the use of a statement made for bargaining purposes. We should not attach such a penalty to discussion of the possibility of a guilty plea. The general rule is that such evidence would not be admissible in a civil suit even where the stake is as little as a few dollars. [Footnote 3] We should at least consider the bearing of the practice upon the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial where the issue is murder and the possible penalty is death. [Footnote 4] [389 U.S. 921 , 923]

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