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PAYNE v. ARKANSAS

decided: May 19, 1958.

PAYNE
v.
ARKANSAS



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS.

Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker

Author: Whittaker

[ 356 U.S. Page 561]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a 19-year-old Negro, was convicted by a jury in Jefferson County, Arkansas, of first degree murder and sentenced to death by electrocution. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Arkansas he pressed two main contentions: (1) that the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress, and in receiving in evidence over his objection, a coerced and false confession, and that the error takes and deprives him of his life without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, and (2) that the trial court erred in overruling his motion to quash the panel of petit jurors upon the ground that Negroes were systematically excluded, or their number limited, in the selection of the jury panel, and that the error deprives him of the equal protection of the laws and of due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The court held that these contentions were without merit and affirmed the judgment. 226 Ark. 910, 295 S. W. 2d 312. He then applied to us for a writ of certiorari, based on these contentions, which we granted because the constitutional questions presented appeared to be substantial. 353 U.S. 929.

We will first consider petitioner's contention that the confession was coerced, and that its admission in evidence over his objection denied him due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The use in a state criminal trial of a defendant's confession obtained by coercion -- whether physical or mental -- is forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn1 Enforcement

[ 356 U.S. Page 562]

     of the criminal laws of the States rests principally with the state courts, and generally their findings of fact, fairly made upon substantial and conflicting testimony as to the circumstances producing the contested confession -- as distinguished from inadequately supported findings or conclusions drawn from uncontroverted happenings -- are not this Court's concern;*fn2 yet where the claim is that the prisoner's confession is the product of coercion we are bound to make our own examination of the record to determine whether the claim is meritorious. "The performance of this duty cannot be foreclosed by the finding of a court, or the verdict of a jury, or both."*fn3 The question for our decision then is whether the confession was coerced. That question can be answered only by reviewing the circumstances under which the confession was made. We therefore proceed to examine those circumstances as shown by this record.

Near 6:30 p. m. on October 4, 1955, J. M. Robertson, an elderly retail lumber dealer in the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was found in his office dead or dying from crushing blows inflicted upon his head. More than $450 was missing from the cash drawer. Petitioner, a 19-year-old Negro with a fifth-grade education,*fn4 who had been employed by Robertson for several weeks, was suspected

[ 356 U.S. Page 563]

     of the crime. He was interrogated that night at his home by the police, but they did not then arrest him. Near 11 a. m. the next day, October 5, he was arrested without a warrant and placed in a cell on the first floor of the city jail. Arkansas statutes provide that an arrest may be made without a warrant when an officer "has reasonable grounds for believing that the person arrested has committed a felony,"*fn5 and that when an arrest is made without a warrant the person arrested "shall be forthwith carried before the most convenient magistrate of the county in which the arrest is made,"*fn6 and when the person arrested is brought before such magistrate it is the latter's duty to "state the charge [against the accused and to] inquire . . . whether he desires the aid of counsel [and to allow him] a reasonable opportunity" to obtain counsel.*fn7 It is admitted that petitioner, though arrested without a warrant, was never taken before a magistrate, and that the statutes mentioned were not complied with.

Petitioner was held incommunicado without any charge against him from the time of his arrest at 11 a. m. on October 5 until after his confession on the afternoon of October 7, without counsel, advisor or friend being permitted to see him. Members of his family who sought to see him were turned away, because the police did not "make it a practice of letting anyone talk to [prisoners] while they are being questioned." Two of petitioner's brothers and three of his nephews were, to his knowledge, brought by the police to the city jail and questioned during the evening of petitioner's ...


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