Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.



decided: November 26, 1951.



Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark; Minton took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Reed

[ 342 U.S. Page 56]

 MR. JUSTICE REED announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BURTON and MR. JUSTICE CLARK join.

Petitioner, Agapita Gallegos, was convicted in a District Court of Nebraska of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, the maximum penalty. The charge was the slaying of his paramour without deliberation or premeditation. This judgment of conviction was sustained by the Supreme Court of Nebraska over the objection that introduction at the trial of petitioner's prior statements admitting the homicide violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. In view of certain undenied incidents giving color to petitioner's allegation of unfairness in the prosecution, certiorari was granted to determine whether the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment were violated by the admission of the statements. 341 U.S. 947.

On September 19, 1949, at the request of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, petitioner, a thirty-eight-year-old Mexican farm hand who can neither speak nor write English, was arrested, together with his brother, by police officers of El Paso County, at the southwest corner of Texas, and there booked on a charge of vagrancy. Gallegos had been an itinerant farm worker in this country before his arrest and had recently returned here for such work.

We gather from the abbreviated record that information was sought by the Texas authorities as to petitioner's acts in Nebraska, where he had worked the preceding year. After arrest, petitioner was questioned regarding his identity. He at once gave a false name. Thereafter,

[ 342 U.S. Page 57]

     he was jailed in a small room for the next twenty-one hours. Further questioning to establish identity was had on September 20, 1949, without result. Following his second interrogation, petitioner was left alone for forty-eight hours. On September 22, 1949, petitioner was removed from his cell and interrogated. After he gave his name and an admission that he had been in Nebraska, he was reconfined; this time confinement ran for a period of twenty-four hours.

On September 23, 1949, petitioner disclosed details of this Nebraska crime. A statement in respect of the crime was immediately prepared in English. This was read to the petitioner in Spanish, and he thereafter signed it. His Texas detention continued until September 27, 1949. During the entire time no charge was filed against him in any state or federal court nor was he brought before a magistrate.

We have Gallegos' evidence as to his Texas confinement, the rooms he was placed in, their condition as to furnishings, and the food provided. His testimony on these points is met only in part by the testimony of the Chief Deputy Sheriff of El Paso, his interrogator. There were times when Gallegos was not under his direct observation. Nebraska had no other witness for the trial familiar with conditions of the Texas restraint. Gallegos' testimony through the interpreter concerning these matters is vague. From it one gathers that Gallegos sought to convey the impression that the rooms were cells, that the one he occupied for twenty-one hours was without a bed, that one he occupied was without light or poorly lighted, and that the food was sparse, perhaps not more than a meal a day.

During the questioning in the four-day period from September 19th through the 23d, the state says petitioner was not treated or threatened with violence. His questioning did not last longer than an hour or two on any

[ 342 U.S. Page 58]

     day and according to the record was conducted almost entirely by the state's witness, the Chief Deputy Sheriff. However, Gallegos testifies that he was told that he might be turned over to the Mexican authorities for more severe questioning and that a lie detector might be used upon him. The record shows no flat denial of Gallegos' assertions contained in the last sentence, but it does show, by testimony of the Deputy Sheriff, that no threats or promises were made and that reference to the Mexican authorities, if made, was that Gallegos would be turned over to the United States Immigration Service who, in turn, would deliver him to the Mexican Immigration Service. Gallegos also spoke of threatened violence.*fn1

On September 27, 1949, a Nebraska sheriff reached Texas and took petitioner to the Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, jail, arriving Thursday, September 29, at 1 a. m. Gallegos was questioned on Saturday, October 1, at which time he was interviewed through an interpreter by three county police officers. He described the crime

[ 342 U.S. Page 59]

     for which he was convicted. A transcript in English of the interpreter's translations of the interview was made and some days later read back to petitioner in a Spanish retranslation. The evidence is that Gallegos confirmed this record. The record shows no claim of mistreatment by Nebraska authorities.

By § 29-406, Neb. Rev. Stat., 1943, a police officer is commanded to take an accused before a magistrate. This was not done until October 13, 1949, when petitioner was brought before the county judge of Scotts Bluff County for a preliminary hearing on a complaint charging murder in the second degree. This was the first time petitioner was brought before any magistrate or court. As an incident to the hearing, petitioner was asked to plead. He pleaded guilty. These two confessions and the plea were introduced at petitioner's trial by the state. On October 15, 1949, before trial, the District Court of Scotts Bluff County found petitioner to be entitled to

[ 342 U.S. Page 60]

     counsel appointed by the court, and counsel was then for the first time appointed.

Petitioner presents in his brief only the following question:

"Are confessions and a plea obtained from a prisoner during a period of twenty-five days illegal detention by federal and state officers before being brought before a magistrate and before counsel is appointed to assist the prisoner admissible in evidence?"

An answer requires an examination into the circumstances of record surrounding the statements.

Before the Supreme Court of Nebraska, on the basis of facts in the record of the trial, it was urged that the confessions and plea were inadmissible because they were the result of "physical torture and threats of torture, mental duress, illegal transportation and illegal detention," in violation of the federal and state constitutions. As conviction without acceptance of the voluntary character of the confessions would logically have been impossible, we assume that the jury, under applicable instructions, found the statements voluntary. 152 Neb. 831, 837-840, 43 N. W. 2d 1, 4-6. Evidently, neither judge nor jury accepted the testimony of Gallegos on disputed facts as to coercion. Where direct contradiction of petitioner's assertions as to conditions of his detention in Texas was unavailable or unobtainable, the jury disregarded or minimized or disbelieved Gallegos to such an extent that his confessions were accepted as voluntary. The Deputy Sheriff, the prosecution witness in the best position to know, denied any coercion by promise, threat or violence. A criminal prosecution approved by the state should not be set aside as violative of due process without clear proof that such drastic action is required to protect federal constitutional rights. While our conclusion on due process

[ 342 U.S. Page 61]

     does not necessarily follow the ultimate determinations of judges or juries as to the voluntary character of a defendant's statements prior to trial, the better opportunity afforded those state agencies to appraise the weight of the evidence, because the witnesses gave it personally before them, leads us to accept their judgment insofar as facts upon which conclusions must be reached are in dispute. The state's ultimate conclusion on guilt is examined from the due process standpoint in the light of facts undisputed by the state.*fn2 That means not only admitted facts but also those that can be classified from the record as without substantial challenge.

As this Court has been entrusted with power to interpret and apply our Constitution to the protection of the right of an accused to federal due process in state criminal trials, the proper performance of that duty requires us to examine, in cases before us, such undisputed facts as form the basis of a state court's denial of that right. Kansas City Southern R. Co. v. Albers Comm'n Co., 223 U.S. 573, 591; Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 594; Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 51. A contrary rule would deny to the Federal Government ultimate authority to redress a violation of constitutional rights. As state courts also are charged with applying constitutional standards of due process, in recognition of their superior opportunity to appraise conflicting testimony, we give deference to their conclusions on disputed and essential issues of what actually happened. See note 2, infra. Its duty compels this Court, however, to decide for itself, on the facts that are undisputed, the constitutional validity of a judgment that denies claimed constitutional rights.

[ 342 U.S. Page 62]

     Controversies as to facts take various forms. The jury may reach a verdict of guilty although they resolved some subsidiary fact in favor of the accused. In Gallegos' case we do not know whether his assertions not directly contradicted as to questionable conditions of his Texas detention and examination were accepted as true by the jury. It is quite possible that the jury thought the confession voluntary even though it believed all of Gallegos' testimony. As we cannot accept the verdict as a finding solely on disputed facts, we must weigh Gallegos' uncontradicted testimony along with the undisputed facts. We are not free, as Nebraska was, to leave to the jury determinations of facts upon which the admissibility of the statements is based.*fn3

The issue of federal due process now tendered is to be considered only on uncontroverted facts. The answer to the question presented depends upon whether there is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from the admitted circumstances that

[ 342 U.S. Page 63]

     the two confessions of September 23 and October 1 were given to police officers after arrest in Texas on September 19, 1949, while no magistrate with supervisory power over the examinations was present and while the accused was without counsel. Circumstances surrounding the Texas, as well as the Nebraska, confession must be appraised because Nebraska introduced the Texas confession in evidence in the trial. The use of any confession obtained in violation of due process requires the reversal of a conviction even though unchallenged evidence, adequate to convict, remains. Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 404. Both states require fugitives from justice to be promptly taken before a magistrate on arrest for extradition. Texas, Vernon's Code of Criminal Procedure, Arts. 998, 999, 217. Neb. Rev. Stat., 1943, §§ 29-713, 29-715. The question must be weighed in the light of the uncontradicted portion of Gallegos' own testimony of harsh treatment and the answers of the prosecution and the judge and the jury. The plea of guilty at the preliminary hearing on October 13 is also a factor. We therefore limit our examination to an inquiry as to whether use at trial of these admissions of guilt theretofore made by an accused violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

The decision and judgment below determine for us that under the law of Nebraska such detention and examination, without appearance or arraignment, do not require exclusion of the confessions or plea as involuntary.*fn4 The rule of the McNabb case, considered recently in United States v. Carignan, 342 U.S. 36, is not a limitation imposed

[ 342 U.S. Page 64]

     by the Due Process Clause. McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 340; Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U.S. 596, 597, note 2. Compliance with the McNabb rule is required in federal courts by this Court through its power of supervision over the procedure and practices of federal courts in the trial of criminal cases. That power over state criminal trials is not vested in this Court. A confession can be declared inadmissible in a state criminal trial by this Court only when the circumstances under which it is received violate those "fundamental principles of liberty and justice" protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against infraction by any state.*fn5

The Federal Constitution does not command a state to furnish defendants counsel as a matter of course, as is required by the Sixth Amendment in federal prosecutions.*fn6 Lack of counsel at state non-capital trials denies federal constitutional protection only when the absence results in a denial to accused of the essentials of justice.*fn7

[ 342 U.S. Page 65]

     Lack of counsel prior to trial certainly has no greater effect. Lyons v. Oklahoma, supra, p. 599. "The mere fact that a confession was made while in the custody of the police does not render it inadmissible." McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 346; cf. United States v. Carignan, 342 U.S. 36, 39.

Prolonged detention without a charge of crime or without preliminary appearance before a magistrate, the lack of counsel before, during, or after arraignment, and confession to the police in private, are, however, elements that should be considered in determining whether a confession, permitted to be introduced and relied upon at a trial, has been obtained under such circumstances that its use violates due process. Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 54. Of course, the plea of guilty at the preliminary hearing should be treated in the same way as the confessions.

So far as due process affects admissions before trial of the defendant, the accepted test is their voluntariness.*fn8 This requires appraisal of the facts of each particular case open to consideration by this Court. In recent cases, where undisputed facts existed far more likely to produce involuntary confessions than those in this case, there was disagreement as to whether due process was violated.*fn9

[ 342 U.S. Page 66]

     The facts here to support a claim of denial of due process are not so convincing.

Certiorari was granted in this case because the record disclosed a serious charge under the Due Process Clause against Nebraska procedure in a criminal case. We have carefully weighed the circumstances of the petitioner's

[ 342 U.S. Page 67]

     lack of education and familiarity with our law, his experience and condition in life, his need for advice of counsel as to the law of homicide and the probable effect on such a man of interrogation during confinement. We have also taken into consideration Gallegos' uncontradicted testimony about his accommodations, his limited amounts of

[ 342 U.S. Page 68]

     food and certain threats made by a Texas assistant sheriff not present at the trial. The uncertain character of this uncontradicted testimony, its lack of definiteness, and the action of the trial judge and jury lead us to place little weight upon it. Our position is confirmed by Gallegos' reiteration of his confession while in custody in Nebraska, when he charges no coercion except detention. See Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U.S. 596, 603.

We cannot say that Nebraska has here violated standards of decency or justice in this conviction.


MR. JUSTICE MINTON took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


152 Neb. 831, 43 N. W. 2d 1, affirmed.


The State of Nebraska is the party that we have summoned to answer for state action claimed to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. I begin, therefore, by considering just what Nebraska itself has done that may be said to violate rights of the petitioner.

Nebraska authorities were not pursuing Gallegos. They did not know that murder had been done in that

[ 342 U.S. Page 69]

     State and were under no pressure to pin guilt on someone. Gallegos, a Mexican illegally in this country, had been a transient worker in Nebraska beet fields and had with him a woman and two children. The whence and whither of their comings and goings made no impression on the community, and when they disappeared no one asked how or why.

From Texas authorities, however, came word that a Mexican, held there at request of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, had confessed to murdering his woman in Nebraska and had told where the body was buried. Nebraska does not charge murder on the basis of a confession without proof of the corpus delicti, so the Nebraska officers -- from information given by Gallegos in Texas -- found a grave and a decomposed body ultimately identified as that of the woman who had been living there with Gallegos without benefit of clergy. Only after this discovery and identification were they in a position to make a murder charge.

Gallegos was brought from Texas to Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska. That was the first time he was in the custody of Nebraska. There is not the slightest proof or suggestion by the defendant or his counsel that Nebraska officials abused, threatened, or unduly questioned him. On the contrary, he willingly told how he beat his paramour to death in a fit of jealousy. The only complaint against Nebraska is that it detained Gallegos an unduly long time before arraignment. Even if it did, the delay was after confession and therefore could not have been for any sinister purpose of coercing one, nor could the detention have been the cause of confession. There is not, from any state action by Nebraska, the slightest ground for inference that the confession to its officials was not given voluntarily.

Upon the trial, however, the prosecution proved not only the Nebraska confession but also an earlier one made

[ 342 U.S. Page 70]

     in Texas. In connection with the latter, vague allegations are made against the Texas officials. Perhaps the prosecution would have been well advised not to have proved how the murder originally came to light. But the prosecution chose to lay the whole matter before the jury, and had it failed to do so it would no doubt have been charged with some sinister purpose in its suppression.

Even if we should assume that Texas officials coerced this confession, they were not acting at the request of Nebraska nor in any sense as her agent. Before we could reverse the conviction, we would have to decide a question not heretofore answered in any decision that I recall, namely, whether Nebraska merely by admitting a coerced foreign confession in evidence would deny due process. Insofar as the reason for exclusion is to prevent convictions on coerced confessions, which are shown by legal experience to be intrinsically unreliable, I should suppose that any defect in its origin would inhere in the confession wherever offered. Insofar, however, as the reason for exclusion is to deter states from attempting coercion in order to bring about convictions, the reason would hardly apply to a case where a state of confession sought no conviction and the state of conviction did not seek the confession. But here there is no need to resolve such difficult questions in affirming the conviction, for I find no coercion such as would require exclusion of this confession, even if Nebraska be held to answer for the conduct of every official involved.

Gallegos was taken into custody by the Texas authorities at the request of the United States immigration service. They had probable cause to believe he was illegally in the country, as indeed he was, and I should not suppose his detention was illegal. The defendant himself does not claim that he was beaten, unduly questioned, or threatened, except that he was told he might be shipped

[ 342 U.S. Page 71]

     back to Mexico and turned over to the Mexican authorities -- a statement which, if made, was patently true.

It should be borne in mind that the detaining officers did not know of this murder except that the immigration officials apparently had some information that the woman in the case had disappeared. The Texas authorities were not under pressure to solve a local murder. It is not even clear that they accused Gallegos of murder and certainly they had no theory of a crime which they were trying to support by obtaining a confession.

But "The guilty flee when no man pursueth." For three days, Gallegos refused to tell his name. But when he finally revealed his identity, he went on and told all. He may have been of the impression that the authorities who were holding him knew more than they did. Only the fact that he was in custody, the fear that his deeds were known, and the weight of the crime on his conscience can be said to have coerced this confession.

This defendant's trial appears to have been scrupulously fair and dispassionate. The jury and the Nebraska courts appear to have weighed all of the claims of Gallegos fairly and found, what I do not see how they could avoid finding, that the confessions were voluntary within the meaning of the law. These are not confessions obtained to fit the facts known to the officials. It is a case where the officials were directed to facts that fitted details of the confession. Nor is it a case where the confession was altered or embellished in a prolonged process of examination. The story first given to the authorities in Texas is substantially identical with that recited to the Nebraska authorities in greater detail.

Indeed no contention is brought to this Court that the confessions were in fact coerced or involuntary. The reason no such contention is made is that capable and zealous counsel cannot support them on this record. But the contention is that both confessions should be made inadmissible

[ 342 U.S. Page 72]

     in evidence because we should convert the so-called McNabb rule, a rule of evidence for federal courts, into a constitutional limitation upon the States. McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332. The claim, and the only claim, is that because Gallegos was not arraigned by Texas immediately after arrest and again by Nebraska immediately after arrival in that State, each detention was illegal and the confessions, even if made without abuse or threat of it, but as a result of questioning during this detention, are inadmissible in evidence. The only "question presented" by the petition to this Court reads: "Are confessions of an accused obtained from him during a prolonged period of unlawful detention before he was brought before a magistrate and before a counsel was appointed to assist him, admissible in evidence?" Every one of the three specifications of error urged in petitioner's brief is based on "twenty-five days of unlawful detention" and on that alone.

Let us see what this would mean as applied to Texas. Texas made the arrest at the request of the immigration authorities and it is not denied that they had probable cause to believe he was an alien who had entered the country illegally. But, for three days he would not tell his name. I should not suppose the authorities were obliged to release an obvious alien so charged before they could learn his identity. Then he disclosed the murder. But the murder did not take place in Texas. That State obviously could not arraign him for it. Was it obliged to turn loose a confessed murderer because the murder occurred outside of their jurisdiction? It does not seem to me that to hold such a person without arraignment under these circumstances denies due process, unless due process prohibits society from taking common-sense steps to solve a murder.

[ 342 U.S. Page 73]

     But it is complained that Nebraska held him too long (just how long is too long we never are told) without arraignment. As I have pointed out, Nebraska knew nothing of the murder and had to conduct an investigation before it could make a properly supported charge of murder. Certainly due process does not require that charges be placed hurriedly and recklessly. Scotts Bluff County is a rural county with less than forty thousand inhabitants, more than half of whom are concentrated in two towns, the largest of which has a population of only twelve thousand. The small prosecuting staff that such a county would maintain cannot be expected to move with the speed of the Federal Government, with its many thousand agents and countless attorneys, or with the speed of big city police forces. What was there to hurry about? Gallegos had already confessed and he was not prejudiced by the delay. The authorities took their time drawing papers and getting proof of the corpus delicti in order. There seems to have been no passion or revenge at work in the case. A small prosecuting office in a town where life is leisurely made a simple effort to go about its duty with convenient speed.

Even if, as some members of the Court ardently desire, the McNabb rule were ever to be converted into a constitutional limitation upon the States, the facts in this case would afford a poor foundation for it. I concur in the affirmance.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS joins, dissenting.

Americans justly complain when their fellow citizens in certain European countries are pounced upon at will by state police, held in jail incommunicado, and later convicted of crime on confessions obtained during such incarceration.

[ 342 U.S. Page 74]

     Yet in part*fn* upon just such a confession, this Court today affirms Nebraska's conviction of a citizen of Mexico who can neither read nor understand English.

The record shows the following facts without any dispute at all: While working in a field in El Paso County, Texas, on September 19, 1949, the petitioner was arrested by a local deputy sheriff without a warrant. The excuse given for the arrest was that immigration officers had requested it. No charge was ever filed against petitioner in any Texas state court nor was any warrant sworn out against him during the eight days he was kept in the Texas jail. His detention was incommunicado except for repeated questioning by the deputies. Part of the time petitioner was kept in an 8' x 8' cell with no windows, a cell which a Texas deputy testifying in this case referred to as the "dark room" or the "punishment room," although petitioner was a "docile prisoner" and did all he was told to do by the officers. It was during this incarceration of eight days that the petitioner gave a confession used to convict him in this case. As is usual in this type of case the deputies say that the confession was wholly "voluntary"; petitioner says that it was due to fear engendered by his incarceration and the actions of the deputies. Even if the officers' story should happen to be correct, I believe the Constitution forbids the use of confessions obtained by the kind of secret inquisition these deputies conducted.

There are countries where arbitrary arrests like this, followed by secret imprisonment and systematic questioning

[ 342 U.S. Page 75]

     until confessions are obtained, are still recognized and permissible legal procedures. See "The Trap Closes" by Robert A. Vogeler with Leigh White, The Saturday Evening Post, November 3, 1951, p. 36 et seq. My own belief is that only by departure from the Constitution as properly interpreted can America tolerate such practices. See Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 154-155; Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227; Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 556, 562-563. I would reverse this judgment.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.