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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Joseph v. US: Jury Consideration of Voluntariness of Confession

Joseph v. United States, 127 S. Ct. ___ (cert. denied Jan. 16, 2007); decision below unpublished (3d Cir. 2006). The district court admitted defendant’s confession at trial, but refused to give a jury instruction required by the third sentence of 18 U.S.C. § 3501(a): "If the trial judge determines that the confession was voluntarily made it shall be admitted in evidence and the trial judge shall permit the jury to hear relevant evidence on the issue of voluntariness and shall instruct the jury to give such weight to the confession as the jury feels it deserves under all the circumstances." The Court of Appeals reasoned that this entire subsection was invalidated by Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000), which explicitly invalidated the first sentence of 3501(a) (Congressional attempt to overrule Miranda v. Arizona). Cert was denied in this case, but Justice Stevens issued this clarifying statement: "In Dickerson v. United States, 530 U. S. 428 (2000), we held that the first sentence of 18 U. S. C. §3501(a) is unconstitutional. In this case the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s rejection of the petitioner’s request for an instruction relating to the voluntariness of her confession—an instruction that the third sentence of §3501(a) requires. The Court of Appeals reasoned that Dickerson had invalidated all of §3501 and not just the first sentence. As the Solicitor General concedes, that holding was erroneous. While I am persuaded that the arguably harmless character of the trial judge’s error provides a proper reason for denying the petition for certiorari, I think it important to note that our denial does not endorse the incorrect reasoning in the opinion of the Court of Appeals."