Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant was on probation for a gambling misdemeanor when he refused to testify about gambling and other criminal activities, fearing that his answers may incriminate him. Defendant was imprisoned for contempt until he answered questions. Defendant filed a habeas corpus petition challenging his confinement.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
In state criminal trials, wherever a question arises as to whether a confession is involuntary, the Fifth Amendment's exception from compulsory self-incrimination is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against abridgement by a state.
The privilege must be sustained if it is not perfectly clear, from a careful consideration of all the circumstances in the case, that the witness is mistaken, and that the answers cannot possibly have such tendency to incriminate.View Full Point of Law
William Malloy (Defendant) was arrested during a gambling raid in 1959 by Hartford, Connecticut police. After pleading guilty to pool selling, a misdemeanor, he was sentenced to one year in jail and fined $500, but the sentence was suspended after 90 days and Defendant was placed on two years probation. Some 16 months following his plea, a Superior Court appointed referee ordered Defendant to testify about gambling and other criminal activities in Hartford County. When Defendant refused, "on grounds it may tend to incriminate [him]" he was imprisoned for contempt and held until willing to answer questions. Defendant filed a habeas corpus petition challenging his confinement. The Superior Court denied the petition. The Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Whether the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment controls the issue of whether a confession is involuntary in state criminal trials.
Yes. The Supreme Court of Errors’ ruling is reversed. In state criminal trials, wherever a question arises as to whether a confession is involuntary, the Fifth Amendment's exception from compulsory self-incrimination is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against abridgement by a state.
When determining if state officers properly obtained a confession, one must focus on whether the statements were made freely and voluntarily without any direct or implied promised or improper influence. Noting that the American judicial system is accusatorial, not inquisitorial, the Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment secures defendants against self-incrimination and compels state and federal officials to establish guilt by evidence that is free and independent of a suspect's or witnesses' statements.