THOMAS V. ARIZONA, 356 U. S. 390 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thomas v. Arizona, 356 U.S. 390 (1958)

Thomas v. Arizona

No. 88

Argued March 5, 1958

Decided May 19, 1958

356 U.S. 390


Contending that his state court conviction of murder was obtained by use of a coerced confession in violation of his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, petitioner applied to a Federal District Court for a writ of habeas corpus. The writ was denied without a hearing after review of the entire record. Petitioner claimed that his confession was coerced by fear of lynching. At the time of his arrest, he was lassoed around the neck, and thereafter around either the shoulder or neck by one and then another local rancher, neither of whom was officially connected with the Sheriff's posse. At the first roping, he was jerked a few steps in the direction of the Sheriff's car and the nearest trees, 200 yards away; the second roping occurred soon thereafter at the place where another Negro, whom petitioner had accused of the crime, was apprehended. This time he was pulled to his knees. On both occasions, the Sheriff immediately removed the rope and ordered the rancher to desist. The confession in issue was made 20 hours later, when petitioner was brought before a Justice of the Peace for arraignment. The latter read the complaint to petitioner and advised him of his rights, but petitioner declared that he was guilty, did not want a lawyer, and had killed the woman. During this 20-hour interval, petitioner stoutly denied his guilt and attempted to implicate another suspect, who subsequently was found to have an unrefuted alibi. In that time, no violence or threat of violence occurred, no promises were made, and no intimation of mob action existed. Petitioner was then 27 years of age, a veteran, of normal intelligence, and possessed of an extensive criminal record. Despite his determination that this confession was voluntary, the trial judge found that two later confessions by petitioner were procured by fear of lynching, and held them inadmissible. The first confession was distinguished on the grounds (1) that it was made in the sanctuary of a court of law, and (2) that it was made in the presence of the Sheriff who protected petitioner at the roping affair.

Held: the judgment is affirmed. Pp. 356 U. S. 391-104.

Page 356 U. S. 391

(a) On all the undisputed facts here, petitioner's confession before the Justice of the Peace is not shown to be the product of fear, duress or coercion. Pp. 356 U. S. 393-402.

(b) This Court's determination of the character of the first confession is neither controlled by the State's decision that later confessions were involuntary nor limited to those factors by which the State differentiated the first from the later confessions. Pp. 356 U. S. 400-401.

(c) Petitioner's reliance on certain disputed facts is misplaced, for this Court's inquiry is limited to the undisputed portions of the record when either the trial judge or the jury, with superior opportunity to gauge the truthfulness of witnesses' testimony, has found the confession to be voluntary. Pp. 356 U. S. 402-403.

(d) The District Court did not abuse its discretion in denying the writ of habeas corp without a hearing. P. 356 U. S. 403.

(e) The District Court did not err in considering a transcript which was filed as an affidavit before that Court, despite the fact that it was not part of the trial record. Pp. 356 U. S. 403-404.

235 F.2d 775, affirmed.

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