LEE V. ILLINOIS, 476 U. S. 530 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530 (1986)

Lee v. Illinois

No. 84-6807

Argued December 9, 1985

Decided June 3, 1986

476 U.S. 530


Petitioner and a codefendant, charged with committing a double murder, were tried jointly in an Illinois court in a bench trial at which neither defendant testified. In finding petitioner guilty of both murders, the judge expressly relied on portions of the codefendant's confession, particularly with respect to the judge's rejection of petitioner's assertions that she had not participated in the murder of one of the victims and that she had acted either in self-defense or under intense and sudden passion in killing the other victim. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed petitioner's convictions, rejecting her contention that her rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated by the trial judge's consideration of the codefendant's confession against her.

Held: The trial court's reliance upon the codefendant's confession as substantive evidence against petitioner violated her rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. 476 U. S. 539-547.

(a) The right of cross-examination is included in an accused's right to confront the witnesses against him; the right to confront and to cross-examine witnesses is primarily a functional right that promotes reliability in criminal trials. This truthfinding function of the Confrontation Clause is uniquely threatened when an accomplice's confession is sought to be introduced against a defendant without the benefit of cross-examination, since such a confession is hearsay, subject to all the dangers of inaccuracy which characterize hearsay generally, and since the accomplice may have a strong motivation to implicate the defendant and to exonerate himself. Thus, accomplices' confessions that incriminate defendants are presumptively unreliable. Pp. 476 U. S. 539-543.

(b) On the record here, the codefendant's confession did not bear sufficient independent "indicia of reliability," Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U. S. 56, 448 U. S. 66, to rebut the presumption of unreliability. The circumstances surrounding the confession did not rebut the presumption that the codefendant's statement could not be trusted as regards petitioner's participation in the murders. Nor is there any merit to Illinois' assertion that reliability was established because petitioner's confession and the codefendant's confession "interlocked" on some points. A codefendant's confession is not rendered reliable simply because some of the facts it contains "interlock" with the facts of the defendant's statement.

Page 476 U. S. 531

Although the confessions here overlapped in their factual recitations to a great extent, they clearly diverged with respect to petitioner's participation in the planning of one victim's death, her facilitation of the murder of the other victim, and factual circumstances relevant to the couple's premeditation. Thus, the subjects upon which the two confessions did not "interlock" cannot be characterized as irrelevant or trivial. The determination, in the first instance, of whether the error as to the trial judge's consideration of the codefendant's confession was harmless is for the state courts. Pp. 476 U. S. 543-547.

129 Ill.App.3d 1167, 491 N.E.2d 1391, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 476 U. S. 547.

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