Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

All aboard the Bruton Line

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

All aboard the Bruton Line

Article excerpt


In Gray v. Maryland,(1) the Supreme Court held that the introduction, at a joint trial, of a codefendant's incriminating confession violated the defendant's Sixth Amendment fight of confrontation, even though the confession was redacted to replace the defendant's name with neutral, non-identifying terms such as "deleted."(2) Such a redaction was considered to be of the same legal consequence as the original confession.(3) The Supreme Court found that the blank spaces and words "deleted" or "deletion" were facially incriminating and simply invited the jury to fill in the blanks.(4)

This Note argues that the majority's role for determining the admissibility of a codefendant's incriminating confession was correct. The majority's role permits the justice system to strive for, and achieve, competing goals.

Next, this Note argues that the majority and dissent, in fact, agreed on the appropriate approach to determining the admissibility of redacted confessions. Both the dissent and majority employed a facially incriminating analysis.(5) Where the majority and dissent divided camps, however, is whether or not the confession in Gray v. Maryland was admissible under that approach.(6) The majority was correct in holding that the redacted confession in Gray v. Maryland was inadmissible under the facially incriminating analysis because the jury was compelled to link the confession to the codefendant, which violated Gray's Sixth Amendment constitutional guarantees.


The Confrontation Clause commands that "[I]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him."(7) The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment,(8) includes the right of cross-examination.(9)

In early cases examining the Confrontation Clause, the Court held that it was "reasonably possible for the jury to follow sufficiently clear instructions" to disregard a confessor's incriminatory statement against his codefendant.(10) In Delli Paoli v. United States, for example, five men were convicted of conspiring to "possess and transport alcohol in unstamped containers and to evade payment of federal taxes on the alcohol."(11) Codefendant Whitley did not testify at trial, but confessed to the crime in an out-of-court statement, which specifically implicated all four codefendants.(12) Whitley's confession was introduced into evidence in its entirety, along with limiting jury instructions.(13) Only codefendant Orlando Delli Paoli appealed his conviction based on the introduction of Whitley's unredacted statement into evidence.(14) The Court found that limiting jury instructions can adequately safeguard a defendant's Sixth Amendment right of confrontation, even where a codefendant's incriminating confession is introduced in whole form.(15) The Court reasoned that if the jury truly disregarded the "reference to the codefendant, no question would arise under the Confrontation Clause, because by hypothesis the case [would be] treated as if the confessor made no statement inculpating the nonconfessor."(16) The key principle in Delli Paoli was that "unless we proceed on the basis that the jury will follow the court's instructions where those instructions are clear and the circumstances are such that the jury can reasonably be expected to follow them, the jury system makes little sense."(17)

The Court next addressed a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation in Jackson v. Denno.(18) The Jackson Court examined a New York State procedure for determining whether a confession was made voluntarily.(19) The Court concluded that a defendant in a criminal case cannot be convicted based upon, in whole or in part, an involuntary confession, regardless of whether the statement is true or false, or whether other evidence supports the conviction.(20)

The New York State procedure allowed the trial judge to exclude a confession if it was clearly made involuntarily. …

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