NELSON V. O'NEIL, 402 U. S. 622 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Nelson v. O'Neil, 402 U.S. 622 (1971)

Nelson v. O'Neil

No. 336

Argued March 24, 1971 -- Decided June 1, 1971

402 U.S. 622


Respondent and one Runnels were charged with committing various crimes and, at their joint trial, offered an alibi defense. A police officer testified that Runnels had orally admitted the crimes and implicated respondent. Runnels, who took the stand, denied making the statement. The trial judge ruled that Runnels' alleged statement was inadmissible hearsay as to respondent, and could not be considered by the jury in deciding whether respondent was guilty. Respondent also took the stand on his own behalf and gave the same version of their activities as Runnels. Both defendants were found guilty, and, after unsuccessful efforts to have his conviction set aside, respondent applied for habeas corpus relief. The District Court ruled that respondent's conviction was improper under Bruton v. United States, 391 U. S. 123, and Roberts v. Russell, 392 U. S. 293, which held that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth, is violated where a codefendant's out-of-court hearsay statement is admitted into evidence without the declarant's being available at trial for "full and effective" cross-examination by the defendant, and that a cautionary instruction to the jury does not adequately protect the defendant where the codefendant does not testify. The Court of Appeals affirmed, stressing that effective confrontation of a witness who has allegedly made an out-of-court statement implicating the defendant was possible only if the witness affirmed the statement as his.

Held: Where a codefendant takes the stand in his own defense, denies making an alleged out-of-court statement implicating the defendant, and testifies in the defendant's favor, the defendant has been denied no rights protected by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, and, in the circumstances of this case, respondent, who would have encountered greater difficulty had Runnels affirmed the statement as his, was denied neither the opportunity nor the benefit of fully and effectively cross-examining Runnels. Bruton, supra, distinguished. Pp. 402 U. S. 626-630.

422 F.2d 319, reversed and remanded.

Page 402 U. S. 623

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACK, HARLAN, WHITE, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. HARLAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 402 U. S. 630. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 402 U. S. 632. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 402 U. S. 635.

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