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LYNUMN v. ILLINOIS, 372 U.S. 528 (1963)

U.S. Supreme Court

LYNUMN v. ILLINOIS, 372 U.S. 528 (1963)

372 U.S. 528

No. 9.
Argued February 19, 1963.
Decided March 25, 1963.

Petitioner was tried in an Illinois State Court, convicted of the unlawful possession and sale of marijuana, and sentenced to imprisonment. Her conviction was sustained by the State Supreme Court, notwithstanding the admission in evidence at her trial of an oral confession obtained by threats of police officers that, if she did not "cooperate," she would be deprived of state financial aid for her dependent children and that her children would be taken from her and she might never see them again. Held: Petitioner's confession was coerced; its admission in evidence violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the judgment affirming her conviction is reversed. Pp. 529-538.

21 Ill. 2d 63, 171 N. E. 2d 17, reversed.

Jewel Lafontant argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner.

William C. Wines, Assistant Attorney General of Illinois, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were William G. Clark, Attorney General, and Raymond S. Sarnow, A. Zola Groves and Edward A. Berman, Assistant Attorneys General. [372 U.S. 528, 529]  

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was tried in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois, on an indictment charging her with the unlawful possession and sale of marijuana. She was convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for "not less than ten nor more than eleven years." The judgment of conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court. 21 Ill. 2d 63, 171 N. E. 2d 17. We granted certiorari. 370 U.S. 933 . For the reasons stated in this opinion, we hold that the petitioner's trial did not meet the demands of due process of law, and we accordingly set aside the judgment before us.

On January 17, 1959, three Chicago police officers arrested James Zeno for unlawful possession of narcotics. They took him to a district police station. There they told him that if he "would set somebody up for them, they would go light" on him. He agreed to "cooperate" and telephoned the petitioner, telling her that he was coming over to her apartment. The officers and Zeno then went to the petitioner's apartment house, and Zeno went upstairs to the third floor while the officers waited below. Some time later, variously estimated as from five to 20 minutes, Zeno emerged from the petitioner's third floor apartment with a package containing a substance later determined to be marijuana. The officers took the package and told Zeno to return to the petitioner's apartment on the pretext that he had left his glasses there. When the petitioner walked out into the hallway in response to Zeno's call, one of the officers seized her and placed her under arrest. 1 The officers and [372 U.S. 528, 530]   Zeno then entered the petitioner's apartment. 2 The petitioner at first denied she had sold the marijuana to Zeno, insisting that while he was in her apartment Zeno had merely repaid a loan. After further conversations with the officers, however, she told them that she had sold the marijuana to Zeno.

The officers testified to this oral confession at the petitioner's trial, and it is this testimony which, we now hold, fatally infected the petitioner's conviction. The petitioner testified at the trial that she had not in fact sold any marijuana to Zeno, that Zeno had merely repaid a long-standing loan. 3 She also testified, however, that she [372 U.S. 528, 531]   had told the officers on the day of her arrest that she had sold Zeno marijuana, describing the circumstances under which this statement was made as follows:

The police officers did not deny that these were the circumstances under which the petitioner told them that she had sold marijuana to Zeno. To the contrary, their testimony largely corroborated the petitioner's testimony. Officer Sims testified:

Officer Bryson testified:

It is thus abundantly clear that the petitioner's oral confession was made only after the police had told her that state financial aid for her infant children would be cut off, and her children taken from her, if she did not "cooperate." These threats were made while she was encircled in her apartment by three police officers and a twice convicted felon who had purportedly "set her up." There was no friend or adviser to whom she might turn. She had had no previous experience with the criminal law, and had no reason not to believe that the police had ample power to carry out their threats.

We think it clear that a confession made under such circumstances must be deemed not voluntary, but coerced. That is the teaching of our cases. We have said that the question in each case is whether the defendant's will was overborne at the time he confessed. Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 ; Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 52 , 53; Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 558 . If so, the confession cannot be deemed "the product of a rational intellect and a free will." Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 208 . See also Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315 ; Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143 ; and see particularly, Harris v. South Carolina, 338 U.S. 68, 70 .

In this case counsel for the State of Illinois has conceded, at least for purposes of argument, that the totality of the circumstances disclosed by the record must be deemed to have combined to produce an impellingly coercive [372 U.S. 528, 535]   effect upon the petitioner at the time she told the officers she had sold marijuana to Zeno. But counsel for the State argues that we should nonetheless affirm the judgment before us upon either of two alternative grounds. It is contended first that the petitioner did not properly assert or preserve her federal constitutional claim in accord with established rules of Illinois procedure, and that her conviction therefore rests upon an adequate and independent foundation of state law. Secondly, it is urged that the petitioner's conviction "does not rest in whole or in any part upon petitioner's confession." We find both of these contentions without validity.

It is true that the record in this case does not show that the petitioner explicitly asserted her federal constitutional claim in the trial court. And it is said that in Illinois the procedural rule is settled that where a constitutional claim which is based not upon the alleged unconstitutionality of a statute, but upon the facts of a particular case, is not clearly and appropriately raised in the trial court, the claim will not be considered on appeal by the Supreme Court of Illinois. In other words, such a claim of constitutional right, it is said, must be asserted in the trial court or it will be deemed upon appellate review to have been waived. People v. Touhy, 397 Ill. 19, 72 N. E. 2d 827.

If all we had to go on were the record in the Illinois trial and appellate courts, there would indeed be color to the claim of counsel for the State, and we would be squarely faced with the necessity of determining what the Illinois procedural rule actually is, and whether the rule constituted an adequate independent ground in support of the judgment affirming the petitioner's conviction. But that is not necessary in this case. For there is here a short and complete answer to the respondent's argument. Before acting upon the petition for certiorari, we entered an order directed to this very problem. The order [372 U.S. 528, 536]   accorded counsel for the petitioner "opportunity to secure a certificate from the Supreme Court of Illinois as to whether the judgment herein was intended to rest on an adequate and independent state ground, or whether decision of the federal claim . . . was necessary to the judgment rendered." 368 U.S. 908 . The answer of the Supreme Court of Illinois was unambiguous. On June 8, 1962, that court issued the following "Response to Request for Certificate":

We decline to search behind this certificate of the Supreme Court of Illinois.

The State's contention that the petitioner's conviction did not rest in any part upon her confession is quite without merit. The case was tried by the court without a jury. The record shows that twice during the trial the petitioner's counsel moved to strike the testimony of the police officers as to the petitioner's oral statement to them. On the first occasion the trial judge reserved a ruling on the motion "until the close of the State's case." When the motion was renewed, the record states that "[t]he motion to strike was denied." Thus the record affirmatively shows that the evidence of the petitioner's confession was admitted and considered by the trial court.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Illinois, which has power independently to assess the evidence of guilt in a criminal case, People v. Ware, 23 Ill. 2d 59, 177 N. E. 2d 362, included in its summary of the prosecution's evidence in this case the statement that "[t]he police officers also testified to certain admissions of guilt made to them by [372 U.S. 528, 537]   defendant on January 17, 1959." 21 Ill. 2d, at 67, 171 N. E. 2d, at 19. Later in its opinion, the court stated:

While this statement is not free from ambiguity, we take it to express the view that even if the testimony as to the petitioner's confession was erroneously admitted, the error was a harmless one in the light of other evidence of the petitioner's guilt. 4 That is an impermissible doctrine. As was said in Payne v. Arkansas, "this Court has uniformly held that even though there may have been sufficient evidence, apart from the coerced confession, to support a judgment of conviction, the admission in evidence, over objection, of the coerced confession vitiates the judgment because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." 356 U.S. 560 , at 568. [372 U.S. 528, 538]   See Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315, 324 ; Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 50 , n. 2; Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596, 599 .

The judgment is set aside, and the case is remanded to the Supreme Court of Illinois for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.


[ Footnote 1 ] Officer Sims testified as follows: "He called Beatrice and said he had left his glasses in the apartment; she opened the door and as she came out into the hall, I was standing in the common hall, in the vestibule part with the door partly closed. As she walked down the hallway toward Zeno, I opened the door and stepped into the hallway. [372 U.S. 528, 530]   I told her she was under arrest and I grabbed her by her hands, both hands. At this point, I told her that she had been set up, that she had just made a sale and I showed her the package."

[ Footnote 2 ] Officer Sims testified: "I had complete physical possession of her two hands. I had turned her hands loose when we went into the apartment. I went in ahead of her. The door was still open. The apartment door was still ajar and I walked into the apartment and she followed me in. We were together but I was beside her. I believe Bryson and Zeno were behind her. She was between two police officers. We proceeded in that fashion to enter her apartment."

[ Footnote 3 ] Her testimony on this subject was as follows: "On January 17th Zeno called me. He owed me money, $23.00. I had loaned him this money about three months previously. He said he was being evicted and had money en route from his sister and if I could lend him the money, he could pay his rent; and I haven't seen him since. That was three months previously. On this day he told me on the phone he was sorry he had not been around to pay the money but he had been in pretty bad shape. But now he had come into some money and would come and pay me.

[ Footnote 4 ] It is difficult, however, to perceive how the admission of evidence of the confession could be considered harmless. The only other evidence of substance against the petitioner was that given by Zeno, a twice convicted felon who testified that he was eager in his own self-interest to cooperate with the police by "setting up" someone. While it was undisputed that Zeno was in possession of the package of marijuana when he emerged from the petitioner's apartment, it was far from clear that Zeno obtained the marijuana from the petitioner. Zeno was out of the police officers' sight for a period of from five to 20 minutes, and there were other apartments in the building where Zeno might have obtained the package. [372 U.S. 528, 539]  

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