CRUZ V. NEW YORK, 481 U. S. 186 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cruz v. New York, 481 U.S. 186 (1987)

Cruz v. New York

No. 85-5939

Argued December 1, 1986

Decided April 21, 1987

481 U.S. 186


Under Bruton v. United States, 391 U. S. 123, a defendant is deprived of his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment when his codefendant's incriminating confession is introduced at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed to consider that confession only against the codefendant. At petitioner's and his brother's joint trial for the felony murder of a gas station attendant, the court allowed the State, over petitioner's objection, to introduce the brother's videotaped confession that he had killed the attendant who had just shot petitioner. The brother did not himself testify, and the court warned the jury that his confession was not to be used against petitioner. The State also called a witness who testified about a conversation with petitioner which recited essentially the same facts as the brother's confession. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction, adopting the reasoning of the plurality opinion in Parker v. Randolph, 442 U. S. 62, that Bruton did not require the brother's confession to be excluded, because petitioner had himself confessed and his confession "interlocked" with his brother's.


1. Where a nontestifying codefendant's confession facially incriminating the defendant is not directly admissible against the defendant, the Confrontation Clause bars its admission at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed not to consider it against the defendant, and even if the defendant's own confession is admitted against him. The Parker plurality's view that Bruton is inapplicable to cases involving interlocking confessions is rejected in favor of JUSTICE BLACKMUN's view in Parker that, although introduction of the defendant's own interlocking confession cannot cure the Confrontation Clause violation caused by introduction of the nontestifying codefendant's confession, it might, in some cases, render that violation harmless. The Parker plurality's view is predicated on the erroneous theory that, when the defendant has himself confessed, introduction of the codefendant's confession will seldom, if ever, be of the "devastating" character required by Bruton to prove a Confrontation Clause violation. Although Bruton did consider "devastating" effect, it did so in the context of justification for excluding the entire category of codefendant confessions that implicate the defendant, and not as a factor whose existence must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The assumption

Page 481 U. S. 187

that an interlocking confession precludes devastation is rendered untenable by the infinite variability of inculpatory statements and their likely effect on juries. In fact, "interlocking" bears an inverse relationship to devastation, since a codefendant's confession that corroborates the defendant's alleged confession significantly harms the defendant's case, whereas one that is positively incompatible gives credence to the defendant's assertion that his own alleged confession was nonexistent or false. The "interlocking" nature of a codefendant's confession pertains not to its harmfulness but to its reliability, which, although relevant to whether the confession should be admitted as evidence against the defendant, is irrelevant to the questions whether the jury is likely to obey the instruction to disregard it or whether the jury's failure to do so is likely to be inconsequential. Pp. 481 U. S. 189-193.

2. Although a codefendant's interlocking confession incriminating the defendant may not be admitted at trial, the defendant's own confession may be considered in assessing whether his codefendant's statements are supported by sufficient "indicia of reliability" to be directly admissible against him (assuming the codefendant's "unavailability") despite the lack of opportunity for cross-examination, and may be considered on appeal in assessing whether any Confrontation Clause violation was harmless. Pp. 481 U. S. 193-194.

66 N.Y.2d 61, 485 N.E.2d 221, reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and POWELL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 194.

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