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PINTO v. PIERCE

decided: October 23, 1967.

PINTO, PRISON FARM SUPERINTENDENT
v.
PIERCE



ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 389 U.S. Page 31]

Respondent was indicted by the grand jury of Essex County, New Jersey, on July 2, 1959, for the crime of robbery while armed. Following a plea of not guilty, he was tried before a jury, convicted and sentenced to a term of from 16 to 23 years in the New Jersey State Prison. On June 6, 1966, respondent filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. The District Judge determined from the transcript of respondent's trial that the trial court had heard in the presence of the jury testimony regarding the voluntariness of an incriminating statement sought to be introduced by the prosecution, held that under prior decisions of this Court this procedure violated respondent's constitutional rights and

[ 389 U.S. Page 32]

     granted the writ. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, and petitioner, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Prison Farm, seeks a writ of certiorari.

 The petition for certiorari is granted and the judgment is reversed. This Court has never ruled that all voluntariness hearings must be held outside the presence of the jury, regardless of the circumstances. Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), held that a defendant's constitutional rights are violated when his challenged confession is introduced without a determination by the trial judge of its voluntariness after an adequate hearing. A confession by the defendant found to be involuntary by the trial judge is not to be heard by the jury which determines his guilt or innocence. Hence, because a disputed confession may be found involuntary and inadmissible by the judge, it would seem prudent to hold voluntariness hearings outside the presence of the jury.*fn1 In this case, however, the confession was held voluntary and admitted as evidence suitable for consideration by the jury. In addition, there is no claim that because the hearing was held in the presence of the jury it was inadequate or had any other unfair consequences for the respondent.*fn2

[ 389 U.S. Page 33]

     Finally, it is clear that the respondent in this case did not object to having the voluntariness of his admission considered in the presence of the jury. At his trial the court asked defense counsel whether there was any objection to the testimony being taken in the presence of the jury. Defense counsel replied, "None whatsoever." The court continued, "As you know, it can be taken in their presence or outside of their presence, and that is a matter of discretion with the Court but I am inquiring of you if you have any objections. If you did I would hear you but I assume you have none." Again counsel replied, "I have none." The evidence regarding voluntariness, which included testimony by respondent, was then taken, after which the court ruled that the statement was voluntary.

Since trial counsel consented to the evidence on voluntariness being taken in the presence of the jury, and the judge found the statement voluntary, respondent was deprived of no constitutional right. The motion of respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for certiorari are granted, the judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the District Court with instructions to dismiss the writ of habeas corpus.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurs in the result.

Disposition

Certiorari granted; 374 F.2d 472, reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE FORTAS, concurring in the result.

I concur in the result because of trial counsel's consent to the taking of evidence on voluntariness in the presence of the jury. Otherwise, I disagree. The rule of Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), should be more than ritual. It was not intended to assure a determination by the judge at the cost of diluting the jury's role in the determination of voluntariness and the weight to be given to admissions. ...


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