High Court Narrows Confession Rule

Article excerpt

THE United States Supreme Court has ruled that an illegally obtained confession allowed as evidence at trial is not of itself enough to void a conviction.

In a 5-4 decision Tuesday, the court ruled that if an appeals court finds a confession was coerced by police, a guilty verdict can be allowed to stand if it is believed that other evidence alone was enough to convince the jury to reach a guilty verdict. The court had long held that a coerced confession automatically disallowed a conviction because it violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. But Tuesday's ruling allowed that a confession illegally obtained through coercion can be considered "harmless error" on par with other procedural trial mistakes that would not always thwart a conviction.

The court did not rule that a coerced confession can ever knowingly be admitted as evidence at trial, but only that if an appeals court later finds that a confession was illegally obtained, the conviction is not always overturned.

The decision came in the case of an Arizona man convicted of killing his stepdaughter after an FBI informant in prison got him to confess in return for protection from other prisoners.

In other rulings Tuesday the court:

Ruled that employee protections against job discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or national origin do not extend to US citizens working for American companies overseas. …