474 U.S. 883 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

DEL VECCHIO v. ILLINOIS , 474 U.S. 883 (1985)

474 U.S. 883

No. 84-7002

Supreme Court of the United States

October 7, 1985

Rehearing Denied Dec. 2, 1985.

See 474 U.S. 1015.

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Illinois.

The petition for writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

Despite this Court's demand "for reliability in the determination that death is the appropriate punishment in a specific case," Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 305, 2991 ( 1976), the Illinois Supreme Court found there to be no error in the admission of two confessions at petitioner's capital sentencing hearing, without any inquiry having been made as to their reliability. Because those confessions had been obtained in connection with charges to which petitioner had long before pleaded guilty, the court found petitioner precluded from challenging their voluntariness later, when he was fighting for his life. Even were I to believe that the death penalty could constitutionally be imposed under certain circumstances, I would grant certiorari in this case to determine whether the Illinois Supreme Court's decision can be reconciled with "the standard of reliability that the Eighth Amendment requires," Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 341, 2646 (1985). See Barefoot

Page 474 U.S. 883 , 884

v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 924-925, 3410-3411 (1983) (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting).*


Petitioner George Del Vecchio was convicted in 1979 of murder, rape, deviate sexual assault, and burglary, and the State sought the death penalty. At his capital sentencing hearing, the prosecutor urged as a statutory aggravating factor the fact that in 1965, when he was 16 years old, petitioner had been convicted upon a plea of guilty to charges of murder, robbery, and attempted robbery. The prosecution also sought to introduce two confessions that petitioner had made to those previous crimes; these confessions, made to a police officer and an Assistant District Attorney respectively, contained detailed statements as to petitioner's role in the 1965 crimes. Petitioner moved to suppress these statements at the sentencing hearing on the grounds that they had been induced through physical and psychological coercion and that their use was therefore barred by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court denied this motion, refusing even to conduct a hearing on it. In his closing argument, the prosecutor pointed to the 1965 confessions as evidence that petitioner was a career criminal who did not deserve to live . The jury proceeded to find two aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude a sentence of death. Petitioner was sentenced to die.

In his appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, petitioner argued that the use of his 1965 confessions without a hearing as to their voluntariness was prejudicial error. The court rejected this claim, concluding:

    "While defendant contests the voluntariness of his inculpatory statement, he does not contend that the guilty plea was involuntarily entered. This court has held that 'a constitutional right, like any other right of an accused, may be waived, and a voluntary plea of guilty waives all errors or irregularities that are not jurisdictional.' (People v. Brown (1969), 41 Ill. [474 U.S. 883 , 885]

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