Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

About

This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

Instructions

Navigate using the table of contents to the left or by using the search box below. Use quotations for an exact phrase search. A search for multiple terms without quotations functions as an “or” search. Not sure where to start? The 5 minute video tutorial offers a guided tour of main features – Launch Tutorial (opens in new tab).

E.g., 02/22/2024
E.g., 02/22/2024

In the Philippines in 2012, crime lord Paul LeRoux believed a real-estate broker, Catherine Lee, had stolen money from him.  LeRoux hired three men to kill her: Adam Samia, Joseph Hunter, and Carl Stillwell.  Lee was later murdered, shot twice in the head.  The four men were eventually arrested.  LeRoux turned state’s evidence.  Stillwell admitted that he was in the van when Lee was killed, but he claimed he was only the driver and that Samia had done the shooting.

Samia, Hunter, and Stillwell were charged with various offenses, including murder-for-hire and conspiracy.  They were tried jointly in the Southern District of New York.  Hunter and Stillwell admitted participation in the murder while Samia maintained his innocence.  At trial, the trial court admitted evidence of Stillwell’s confession, redacted to omit any direct reference to Samia (“He described a time when the other person he was with pulled the trigger on that woman in a van that he and Mr. Stillwell was driving.”).  The trial court instructed the jury that this testimony was admissible only as to Stillwell and should not be considered as to Samia or Hunter.  All three men were convicted and Samia sentenced to life plus ten years.  On appeal, the Second circuit found no error in admitting Stillwell’s confession in its modified form.  The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the admission of Stillwell’s altered confession, subject to a limiting instruction, violated Samia’s confrontation clause rights.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.  In Crawford v. Washington, the Supreme Court held the confrontation clause bars the admission of out-of-court testimonial statements unless the declarant is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine him.  Crawford, 541 U.S. at 53-54.  Stillwell’s post-arrest confession to DEA agents was plainly testimonial.  In Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), the Supreme Court held a defendant’s confrontation clause rights are violated when his nontestifying codefendant’s confession naming him as a participant in the crime is introduced at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed to consider that confession only against the codefendant.  In Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200 (1987), however, it found no error in the use of a redacted confession, holding that the confrontation clause is not violated by the admission of a nontestifying codefendant’s confession with a proper limiting instruction, when the confession is redacted to eliminate any reference to the defendant.  Finally, in Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185 (1998), the Supreme Court held that certain obviously redacted confessions might be directly accusatory and so fall within Bruton’s rule, even if they did not explicitly name the defendant.

In Samia, the Supreme Court recited the “general rule” that a witness whose testimony is introduced at a joint trial is not considered to be a witness against a defendant if the jury is instructed to consider that testimony only against a codefendant.  Samia, 2023 WL 4139001, at *5 (quoting Richardson, 481 U.S. at 206).  It reviewed the historical practice.  Id. at *6.  It discussed the doctrine that jurors are presumed to follow the trial judge’s instructions, and it acknowledged Bruton as “a narrow exception” to this rule.  Id. at *6-*7.  Reviewing BrutonRichardson, and Gray, the Supreme Court found its precedents “distinguish between confessions that directly implicate a defendant and those that do so indirectly.”  Id. at *9.  Here, Stillwell’s confession was redacted to avoid naming Samia, “satisfying Bruton’s rule,” and it was not so obviously redacted as to resemble the confession in Gray.  Id. at *10.  Accordingly, the introduction of Stillwell’s confession coupled with a limiting instruction did not violate the confrontation clause.  Id. at *7.

Justice Barrett concurred in part and in the judgment.  She rejected the historical evidence described in Part II-A of the majority opinion as anachronistic (too late to inform the meaning of the confrontation clause at the time of the founding) and insubstantial (addressing hearsay rules rather than confrontation).

Justices Kagan dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor and Justice Jackson.  Justice Kagan posited that “Bruton’s application has always turned on a confession’s inculpatory impact.”  Id. at *14 (Kagan, J., dissenting).  She said it would have been obvious to the jury that “the other person” referenced in the redacted confession was Samia, and “[t]hat fact makes Stillwell’s confession inadmissible” under Bruton.  Id. Justice Kagan accepted the majority’s dichotomy between confessions that implicate a defendant directly or indirectly, but she criticized the majority for finding Stillwell’s confession only indirectly implicated Samia.  Id. at *14-*15.  She accused the majority of undermining Bruton without formally overruling it: “Under this decision, prosecutors can always circumvent Bruton’s protections.”  Id. at *16.

Justice Jackson dissented separately.  Id. at *16 (Jackson, J., dissenting).  In her view, the default position under Crawford is that Stillwell’s confession was not admissible, and in seeking to introduce the confession the Government sought an exception from the confrontation clause’s exclusion mandate.  Id.  But under the majority’s approach, the default rule is that a nontestifying codefendant’s incriminating confession is admissible, so long as it is accompanied by a limiting instruction, and Bruton represents a narrow exception to this default rule.  Id.  The majority, Justice Jackson charged, turns Bruton on its head, setting “the stage for considerable erosion of the Confrontation Clause right that Bruton protects.”  Id. at *17.

 

No Bruton issue occurred when the trial court admitted a co-defendant’s admission to police that “I only hit that man twice.” A co-defendant’s statement which does not mention or refer to the defendant does not implicate the Confrontation Clause or Bruton. Here, the co-defendant’s statement did not mention the defendant and thus its admission did not implicate his constitutional rights. 

Show Table of Contents