Gallegos v. Colorado/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

370 U.S. 49

Gallegos  v.  Colorado

 Argued: April 9, 1962. --- Decided: June 4, 1962

Petitioner, a child of 14, and another juvenile followed an elderly man to a hotel, got into his room on a ruse, assaulted him, overpowered him, stole $13 from his pockets, and fled. All this happened on December 20, 1958. Petitioner was picked up by the police on January 1, 1959, and immediately admitted the assault and robbery. At that time, however, the victim of the robbery was still alive, though hospitalized. He died on January 26, 1959, and forthwith an information charging first degree murder was returned against petitioner. A jury found him guilty, the crucial evidence introduced at the trial being a formal confession which he signed on January 7, 1959, after he had been held for five days during which time he saw no lawyer, parent or other friendly adult. The Supreme Court of Colorado affirmed the judgment of conviction. 145 Colo. 53, 358 P.2d 1028. We granted the petition for certiorari, 368 U.S. 815, 82 S.Ct. 70, 7 L.Ed.2d 23.

After petitioner's arrest on January 1, the following events took place. His mother tried to see him on Friday, January 2, but permission was denied, the reason given being that visiting hours were from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday and Thursday. From January 1 through January 7, petitioner was in Junvenile Hall, where he was kept in security, though he was allowed to eat with the other inmates. He was examined by the police in Juvenile Hall January 2, and made a confession which an officer recorded in longhand. On January 3, 1959, a complaint was filed against him in the Juvenile Court by the investigating detectives.

The State in its brief calls this preliminary procedure in Juvenile Hall being 'booked in.' As noted, petitioner signed a full and formal confession on January 7. The trial in the Juvenile Court took place January 16 on a petition dated January 13 containing a charge of 'assault to injure.' He was committed to the State Industrial School for an indeterminate period. Thereafter, as noted above, the victim of the robbery died and the murder trial was held.

Confessions obtained by 'secret inquisitorial processes' (Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 237, 60 S.Ct. 472, 477, 84 L.Ed. 716) are suspect, since such procedures are conducive to the use of physical and psychological pressures. Chambers v. Florida, supra; Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 74 S.Ct. 716, 98 L.Ed. 948. The reason that due process, as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, condemns the obtaining of confessions in that manner is a compound of two influences. First is the procedural requirement stated in Chambers v. Florida, supra, 309 U.S. 236-237, 60 S.Ct. 477:

'From the popular hatred and abhorrence of illegal confinement, torture and extortion of confessions of violations of the 'law of the land' evolved the fundamental idea that no man's life, liberty or property be forfeited as criminal punishment for violation of that law until there had been a charge fairly made and fairly tried in a public tribunal free of prejudice, passion, excitement and tyrannical power. Thus, as assurance against ancient evils, our country, in order to preserve 'the blessings of liberty', wrote into its basic law the requirement, among others, that the forfeiture of the lives, liberties or property of people accused of crime can only follow if procedural safeguards of due process have been obeyed.'

We emphasized this point in Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 152, 64 S.Ct. 921, 925, 88 L.Ed. 1192, where we said that 'always evidence concerning the inner details of secret inquisitions is weighted against an accused * * *.'

Second is the element of compulsion which is condemned by the Fifth Amendment. Chief Justice Hughes in Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 285, 56 S.Ct. 461, 464, 80 L.Ed. 682, emphasized that ingredient of due process. After noting that the Court had held that the exemption from compulsory self-incrimination in the courts of the States is not guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, he went on to say:

'But the question of the right of the state to withdraw the privilege against self-incrimination is not here involved. The compulsion to which the quoted statements refer is that of the processes of justice by which the accused may be called as a witness and required to testify. Compulsion by torture to extort a confession is a different matter.' And see Brennan, The Bill of Rights and the States, 36 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 761.

We reiterated that view in Ashcraft v. Tennessee, supra, where we held that the principle in Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 562-563, 18 S.Ct. 183, 194, 42 L.Ed. 568, was applicable to state proceedings. 322 U.S. at 154, note 9, 64 S.Ct. at 926. We said:

'We think a situation such as that here shown by uncontradicted evidence is so inherently coercive that its every existence is irreconcilable with the possession of mental freedom by a lone suspect against whom its full coercive force is brought to bear. It is inconceivable that any court of justice in the land, conducted as our courts are, open to the public, would permit prosecutors serving in relays to keep a defendant witness under continuous cross examination for thirty-six hours without rest or sleep in an effort to extract a 'voluntary' confession. Nor can we, consistently with Constitutional due process of law, hold voluntary a confession where prosecutors do the same thing away from the restraining influences of a public trial in an open court room.' 322 U.S. at 154, 64 S.Ct. at 926. (Italics added.)

The application of these principles involves close scrutiny of the facts of individual cases. The length of the questioning (Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315, 79 S.Ct. 1202, 3 L.Ed.2d 1265), the use of fear to break a suspect (Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 65 S.Ct. 781, 89 L.Ed. 1029), the youth of the accused (Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596, 68 S.Ct. 302, 92 L.Ed. 224) are illustrative of the circumstances on which cases of this kind turn. The youth of the suspect was the crucial factor in Haley v. Ohio, supra, at 599-600, 68 S.Ct. at 303:

'What transpired would make us pause for careful inquiry if a mature man were involved. And when, as here, a mere child-an easy victim of the law-is before us, special care in scrutinizing the record must be used. Age 15 is a tender and difficult age for a boy of any race. He cannot be judged by the more exacting standards of maturity. That which would leave a man cold and unimpressed can overawe and overwhelm a lad in his early teens. This is the period of great instability which the crisis of adolescence produces. A 15-year-old lad, questioned through the dead of night by relays of police, is a ready victim of the inquisition. Mature men possibly might stand the ordeal from midnight to 5 a.m. But we cannot believe that a lad of tender years is a match for the police in such a contest. He needs counsel and support if he is not to become the victim first of fear, then of panic. He needs someone on whom to lean lest the overpowering presence of the law, as he knows it, crush him. No friend stood at the side of this 15-year-old boy as the police, working in relays, questioned him hour after hour, from midnight until dawn. No lawyer stood guard to make sure that the police went so far and no farther, to see to it that they stopped short of the point where he became the victim of coercion. No counsel or friend was called during the critical hours of questioning. A photographer was admitted once this lad broke and confessed. But not even a gesture towards getting a lawyer for him was ever made.'

The fact that petitioner was only 14 years old puts this case on the same footing as Haley v. Ohio, supra. There was here no evidence of prolonged questioning. But the five-day detention-during which time the boy's mother unsuccessfully tried to see him and he was cut off from contact with any lawyer or adult advisor-gives the case an ominous cast. The prosecution says that the boy was advised of his right to counsel, but that he did not ask either for a lawyer or for his parents. But a 14-year-old boy, no matter how sophisticated, is unlikely to have any conception of what will confront him when he is made accessible only to the police. That is to say, we deal with a person who is not equal to the police in knowledge and understanding of the consequences of the questions and answers being recorded and who is unable to know how to protest his own interests or how to get the benefits of his constitutional rights.

The prosecution says that the youth and immaturity of the petitioner and the five-day detention are irrelevant, because the basic ingredients of the confession came tumbling out as soon as he was arrested. But if we took that position, it would, with all deference, be in callous disregard of this boy's constitutional rights. He cannot be compared with an adult in full possession of his senses and knowledgeable of the consequences of his admissions. He would have no way of knowing what the consequences of his confession were without advice as to his rights-from someone concerned with securing him those rights-and without the aid of more mature judgment as to the steps he should take in the predicament in which he found himself. A lawyer or an adult relative or friend could have given the petitioner the protection which his own immaturity could not. Adult advice would have put him on a less unequal footing with his interrogators. Without some adult protection against this inequality, a 14-year-old boy would not be able to know, let alone assert, such constitutional rights as he had. To allow this conviction to stand would, in effect, be to treat him as if he had no constitutional rights.

There is no guide to the decision of cases such as this, except the totality of circumstances that bear on the two factors we have mentioned. The youth of the petitioner, the long detention, the failure to send for his parents, the failure immediately to bring him before the judge of the Juvenile Court, the failure to see to it that he had the advice of a lawyer or a friend-all these combine to make us conclude that the formal confession on which this conviction may have rested (see Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U.S. 560, 568, 78 S.Ct. 844, 850, 2 L.Ed.2d 975) was obtained in violation of due process.


Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER and Mr. Justice WHITE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Mr. Justice CLARK, with whom Mr. Justice HARLAN and Mr. Justice STEWART join, dissenting.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).