Harrison v. United States (392 U.S. 219)/Dissent Harlan

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United States Supreme Court

392 U.S. 219

Harrison  v.  United States (392 U.S. 219)

 Argued: April 4, 1968. --- Decided: June 10, 1968

Mr. Justice HARLAN, dissenting.

Like my Brother BLACK and my Brother WHITE, I am unable to understand why the Court reverses this petitioner's conviction. There is no suggestion that the testimony in question, given on the stand with the advice of counsel, was somehow unreliable. Nor, as the opinion of Mr. Justice WHITE amply demonstrates, is there any plausible argument that a rule excluding such evidence from use at a later trial adds an ounce of deterrence against police violation of the Mallory rule.

I do not doubt that 'voluntariness' is not always a purely subjective question as to the defendant's state of mind; it may involve an objective analysis of the fairness of the situation in which government agents placed him. Nor would I rule out the possibility that a direct product of unlawful official activity might properly be excludable as a fruit of that activity-even where the product is so unforeseeable that a deterrent rationale for exclusion will not suffice-on the ground that the Government should not play an ignoble part.

But these concepts do not reach this case. Here, apparently in all good faith, the Government offered at one trial an out-of-court confession by petitioner. It was objected to on the ground that it had been obtained in violation of the Mallory rule. That objection was overruled, and the defense had to decide how to proceed. While defense counsel may have believed he had good grounds for reversal on appeal (as the Court of Appeals later held he did) he also had to present a defense in an effort to persuade the jury to acquit. That defense had of course to be structured to meet the Government's case as it stood-including but not limited to the admitted confession-and counsel decided to put his client on the stand. [*]

The situation was one that criminal and civil defendants face all the time: believing that error has been committed that will result in reversal on appeal, they must nevertheless present a defense, and in doing so may help the other side on retrial. The situation here is no different in principle from the sacrifice of surprise, or the conveyance of important leads to the other side, that may occur because a trial continues even after error has been committed. It is a price that is paid for having a system of justice that insists, generally upon full trials before appellate review of points of law. It is a problem that can be avoided, within our system, only by doing what is done here, namely, reaching the wrong result as between the litigants. For me this is not acceptable doctrine.


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).