Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No Bruton Violations in Bench Trials

Johnson v. Tennis, No. 07-1968 (3d Cir. Nov. 19, 2008). The first paragraph of this opinion (almost) says it all:

"This appeal by Gary Johnson from the denial of his petition for habeas corpus by the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania requires us to decide an issue of first impression in this Circuit: Do the teachings of Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), apply to a bench trial in a criminal proceeding? Bruton and its progeny established that in a joint criminal trial before a jury, a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation is violated by admitting a confession of a non-testifying codefendant that implicates the defendant, regardless of any limiting instruction given to the jury. See id.; Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 211 (1987); Cruz v. New York, 481 U.S. 186, 193-194 (1987). We hold that the Bruton rule is inapplicable to the incriminating confession of a nontestifying codefendant in a joint bench trial. By its own terms, Bruton applies to jury trials only. In so deciding we agree with every United States Court of Appeals that has considered the question."

The Court "so decided" because "[w]e will not presume that a judge suffers from the same disability" as a jury in disregarding inadmissible evidence.

Expect fewer bench trials in cases with confessing co-defendants!

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