The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF
The petitioner Nathaniel Clifton has presented pro se an application for a writ of error coram nobis to set aside and vacate a judgment of conviction on a charge of robbery, on which he was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 2 years to 6 years on April 18, 1946. No appeal was taken. The sentence was served and expired many years ago.
The present application is based on the ruling of the Supreme Court in Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S. Ct. 1774, 12 L. Ed. 2d 908, which regulated the procedure to be followed in determining the admissibility of confessions. It is alleged that the procedure recently prescribed by the Supreme Court was not pursued at the trial in this case.
In Jackson v. Denno, supra, the Supreme Court reviewed the different types of procedure followed in various jurisdictions for a determination of the question whether a defendant's confession was voluntary or involuntary. Under the New York practice, which was in question in that case, and which likewise prevailed in some other jurisdictions, the trial judge made a preliminary determination of the matter and excluded the confession if it could not be deemed voluntary under any circumstances. If, however, the evidence was conflicting and presented a fair question as to voluntariness, the judge admitted the confession and left to the jury the ultimate determination of its voluntary or involuntary character. The Supreme Court disapproved this practice as being violative of the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority opinion pointed out that under these circumstances if the jury rendered a general verdict of guilty, it was impossible to ascertain whether the jury gave weight to the confession or excluded it and based its conclusion on the other evidence in the case. Mr. Justice Black, Mr. Justice Clark and Mr. Justice Harlan dissented.
Under what the Court denominated as the 'orthodox' rule, the judge hears all the evidence on the issue of voluntariness and then rules definitively on the admissibility of the confession. If he admits the statement, the jury may thereafter consider the question of voluntariness as affecting the weight or the credibility of the confession. Still a third rule, sometimes called the 'Massachusetts' rule, is the same as the 'orthodox' rule, except that even if the Court admits the confession, the jury is instructed that it must also find that the confession was voluntary before it may consider it. The second and third rules comply with the constitutional requirements as formulated by the Supreme Court in Jackson v. Denno, while the New York practice is not in accord with them.
Second, it is not necessary to rest solely on the first ground just discussed. The petition is also to be denied on a narrower basis. This Court maintains detailed contemporary, handwritten trial notes in permanent bound volumes. It has consulted its trial notes concerning this case. It appears from them that when the defendant's confession was tendered in evidence and an objection was interposed on the ground that the confession was involuntary, the Court excluded the jury and held a preliminary hearing out of its presence, at which various witnesses testified, including the defendant himself. The Court found on the basis of the evidence that the confession was voluntary, overruled the objection, and admitted the confession.
During the presentation of the defendant's case before the jury, the evidence on the issue of alleged coercion resulting in the confession was reintroduced. In its instructions to the jury the Court directed the jury to consider the question of voluntariness of the confession and to exclude the confession unless they found it was voluntary. The Court thus applied what has been called by the Supreme Court in the Jackson case the Massachusetts rule, and did not follow the so-called New York practice, which was disapproved by the Supreme Court. It may be observed that the practice followed by this Court in this instance is that traditionally and generally adopted by Federal Judges in this district.
This case is one of many illustrations of the well-known fact that rulings of appellate courts relating to criminal law and procedure, are closely followed by the underworld and rapidly circulated by its grapevine. In fact, criminals tend to gravitate to localities where rulings of appellate courts are more favorable to defendants in criminal cases than they are elsewhere.