Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant was convicted of importing and possessing cocaine. He and a co-defendant were search when entering Miami after returning from Lima, Peru. The co-defendant had hidden pockets of cocaine sewn into his t-shirt and a t-shirt with pieces missing was recovered from Defendant’s suitcase.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Illegally obtained evidence may be used to impeach the testimony of a defendant when the defendant chooses to testify in his own defense.
A defendant's statements made in response to proper cross-examination reasonably suggested by the defendant's direct examination are subject to otherwise proper impeachment by the government, albeit by evidence that has been illegally obtained and that is inadmissible on the government's direct case, or otherwise, as substantive evidence of guilt.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Was the t-shirt evidence properly allowed to impeach the Defendant’s testimony even though it was obtained pursuant to an unlawful search?
Held. Justice White delivered the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in reversing the Court of Appeals and holding that the t-shirt evidence was properly allowed.
Dissent. Justice Brennan, joined by Justices Marshall, Stewart, and Stevens, issued a dissenting opinion arguing that the Court’s ruling allows the prosecution to draw out testimony on cross examination and then impeach it with illegally seized evidence.
Discussion. A defendant’s statements in regards to lawful cross-examination may be impeached even if the impeachment evidence was obtained illegally. The U.S. Supreme Court notes that the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the conviction by drawing a distinction between the testimony on direct or by cross examination. Impeachment should be allowed to prevent defendant’s from lying when choosing to testify.