Part 5: Conspiracies | Rebuttal use of co-defendant’s statements in trial. Confrontation Clause.

At respondent’s Tennessee state court trial for murder, the State relied on a confession that respondent made to the Sheriff. Respondent testified that his confession was coercively derived from an accomplice’s written confession, claiming that the Sheriff read from the accomplice’s confession and directed respondent to say the same thing. In rebuttal, the State called the Sheriff, who denied that respondent was read the accomplice’s confession and who read that confession to the jury after the trial judge had instructed the jury that the confession was not admitted for the purpose of proving its truthfulness, but for the purpose of rebuttal only. The prosecutor then elicited from the Sheriff testimony emphasizing the differences between respondent’s confession and the accomplice’s confession. Respondent was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, holding that the introduction of the accomplice’s confession denied respondent his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses, even though the confession was introduced for the nonhearsay purpose of rebutting respondent’s testimony.

Held: Respondent’s rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment were not violated by the introduction of the accomplice’s confession for rebuttal purposes. Pp. 471 U. S. 413-417.

(a) The nonhearsay aspect of the accomplice’s confession — not to prove what happened at the murder scene but to prove what happened when respondent confessed — raises no Confrontation Clause concerns. The Clause’s fundamental role in protecting the right of cross-examination was satisfied by the Sheriff’s presence on the witness stand. Pp. 471 U. S. 413-414.

(b) If the prosecutor had been denied the opportunity to present the accomplice’s confession in rebuttal so as to enable the jury to make the relevant comparison with respondent’s confession, the jury would have been impeded in evaluating the truth of respondent’s testimony and in weighing the reliability of his confession. Such a result would have been at odds with the Confrontation Clause’s mission of advancing the accuracy of the truth-determining process in criminal trials. There were no alternatives that would have both assured the integrity of the trial’s truth-seeking function and eliminated the risk of the jury’s improper use of evidence. Pp. 471 U. S. 414-416.

(c) The trial judge’s instructions to the jury as to the limited purpose of admitting the accomplice’s confession were the appropriate way to limit the use of that evidence in a manner consistent with the Confrontation Clause. P. 471 U. S. 417.

Full case here: Tennessee v. Street, 471 U.S. 409 (1985)

Please watch:
Part 1: Introduction to Conspiracy Law. Multi-part series exploring criminal conspiracy cases.

Part 2: Conspiracies | Pinkerton Liability | Co-conspirators responsible for each others crimes.

Part 3: Conspiracies | Elements of the crime and Overt Act definition from U.S. v. Rabinowich

Part 4: Conspiracies | Prejudicial Joinder, extrajudicial confession implicates a co-defendant.

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
LAWSTACHE™ LAW FIRM | Criminal Defense and Business Law
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