Confessions: Police Interrogation, Due Process, and Self-Incrimination

Confessions: Police Interrogation, Due Process, and Self-Incrimination

"In criminal trials, in the courts of the United States, wherever a question arises whether a confession is incompetent because not voluntary, the issue is controlled by that portion of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, commanding that no person 'shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."'263 This language in an 1897 case marked a sharp if unacknowledged break with the doctrine of previous cases in which the Court had applied the common-law test of voluntariness to determine the admissibility of confessions, and, while the language was never expressly disavowed in subsequent cases, the Court seems nevertheless to have proceeded along due process standards rather than self-incrimination analysis. Because the self-incrimination clause for most of this period was not applicable to the States, the admissibility of confessions in state courts was determined under due process standards developed from common-law voluntariness principles. It was only after the Court extended the self-incrimination clause to the States that a divided Court re-affirmed and extended the 1897 ruling and imposed on both federal and state trial courts new rules for admitting or excluding confessions and other admissions made to police during custodial interrogation.264 Though recent research tends to treat as oversimplified Wigmore's conclusion that "there never was any historical connection . . . between the constitutional clause and the confession-doctrine,"265 the fact is that the contention, coupled with the inapplicability of the self-incrimination clause to the States, was apparently the basis until recently for the Supreme Court's adjudication of confession cases.

263 Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 542 (1897).

264 Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

265 3 J. WIGMORE, A TREATISE ON THE ANGLO-AMERICAN SYSTEM OF EVIDENCE § 823, at 250 n.5 (3d ed. 1940); see also vol. 8 id. at § 2266 (McNaughton rev. 1961). It appears that while the two rules did develop separately, they did stem from some of the same considerations, and, in fact, the confession rule may be considered in important respects to be an off-shoot of the privilege against self-incrimination. See L. LEVY, ORIGINS OF THE FIFTH AMENDMENT—THE RIGHT AGAINST SELF-INCRIMINATION 325-32, 495 n.43 (1968). See also Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 581-84, especially 583 n.25 (1961) (Justice Frankfurter announcing judgment of the Court).

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