Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Confession(s) To Make: Florida Court Orders Separate Trials Of Former Football Players Based Upon Bruton Issues
In Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), the Supreme Court held that when there is a joint trial of a defendant and a co-defendant, the admission into evidence of the non-testifying co-defendant's out-of-court confession violates the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment if the confession incriminates the other defendant. This so-called "Bruton doctrine" explains why former high school football players in Bradenton, Florida were informed on Friday that they will have separate murder trials.
Former Palmetto High School football players Ta Heem Blake, 17, and Marquis Sanders, have been charged with murder in connection with a deadly home invasion that took the life of 55 year-old Maria Lerma. Part of what led to the charges against the two were their own incriminatory statements: Blake made statements that incriminated both himself and Sanders, and Sanders made statements that incriminated both himself and Blake.
What this meant was that, pursuant to Bruton, the prosecution could have faced a significant problem if it tried Blake and Sanders jointly. If it held such a joint trial and Blake invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, his incriminatory statements would have been inadmissible because they incriminated Sanders. And if there were a joint trial and Sanders invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, his incriminatory statements would have been inadmissible because they incriminated Blake.
Furthermore, as the Supreme Court found in Cruz v. New York, 481 U.S. 186 (1987), it doesn't matter that Blake and Sanders ostensibly made something akin to "interlocking confessions" because Bruton still applies, even when both defendants have made confessions.