CRANE V. KENTUCKY, 476 U. S. 683 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683 (1986)

Crane v. Kentucky

No. 85-5238

Argued April 23, 1986

Decided June 9, 1986

476 U.S. 683


Prior to his trial for murder in a Kentucky court, petitioner moved to suppress his confession. Following a hearing, the trial court determined that the confession was voluntary, and denied the motion. At trial, petitioner, who was 16 years old at the time of his arrest, sought to introduce testimony describing the length of the interrogation and the manner in which it was conducted. In attempting to introduce such testimony, petitioner hoped to show that the confession, which was the principal component of the State's case, was unworthy of belief. The trial court ruled that the testimony pertained solely to the issue of voluntariness, and was therefore inadmissible. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner's claim that the exclusion of the testimony violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Held. The exclusion of the testimony about the circumstances of his confession deprived petitioner of his fundamental constitutional right -- whether under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or under the Compulsory Process or Confrontation Clauses of the Sixth Amendment -- to a fair opportunity to present a defense. Evidence about the manner in which a confession was secured, in addition to bearing on its voluntariness, often bears on its credibility, a matter that is exclusively for the jury to assess. The physical and psychological environment that yielded a confession is not only relevant to the legal question of voluntariness but can also be of substantial relevance to the ultimate factual issue of the defendant's guilt or innocence, especially in a case such as this, where there apparently was no physical evidence to link petitioner to the crime. Respondent's argument that any error was harmless, since the excluded evidence came in through other witnesses, should be directed in the first instance to the state court. Pp. 476 U. S. 687-692.

690 S.W.2d 753, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 476 U. S. 684

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