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UNITED STATES v. FULLER

May 26, 1965

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
William H. FULLER, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

During the trial of this case, in which the defendant, William H. Fuller, is charged with murder and rape, the Court has conducted a preliminary hearing on the questions of admissibility, first, of oral statements made by the defendant to a police officer at or about the time of his arrest; and, second, the admissibility of certain articles seized at the defendant's home pursuant to a search warrant. The two matters will be considered separately.

Counsel for the defendant raises two issues in respect to the admissibility of an oral statement or series of statements made by the defendant to the police officers at or about the time of his arrest. He interposes, first, the issues of voluntariness, and, second, the question of admissibility under the rule of the Mallory case (Mallory v. United States), 354 U.S. 449, 77 S. Ct. 1356, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1479. These points are raised by appropriate objections. In view of the nature of the case and of possible vital importance of the evidence and its effect on the outcome of the trial, the Court held a full and elaborate hearing as to the circumstances under which the statements were made.

 The Court will consider the two objections to the admissibility of statements separately, because the two are independent of each other and are governed by entirely different principles. The objection as to voluntariness is directed to the very foundation of justice, because a confession or a damaging statement obtained by coercion is abhorrent to the standards of modern Western civilization. Coercion is not to be limited merely to the use of physical violence against the person making the statement. It may comprehend mental or moral pressure of a kind that deprives the person, in whole or in part, of his free will and of his mental control.

 The police officers involved in this case and the defendant both testified concerning the events that preceded the defendant's statements and the circumstances under which they were made. It is interesting to observe that there is very little difference in the two versions, except as to minor details, such as are always likely to be present when two or more persons give an account of the same episode.

 In addition to observing the body and having photographs taken by the Identification Bureau of the Police Department, the officers made a careful search of the vicinity. They found a number of articles strewn around the neighborhood. Among them was a woman's underclothes, a woman's boot, some black hair, a key, and a little red address book. These articles were scattered around the locality. The officers discovered that there appeared to be blood on the rear door of one of the shops and chipped off particles of wood from the door upon which the alleged blood stains were found. They gathered particles of paint that they scraped up from the rear of the same shop and that were observed on the concrete. They found a button which seemed to be missing from a dress that the deceased was wearing when her body was found.

 Upon examining the little red address book they noticed the name William H. Fuller with an address written in it. They proceeded to that address, identified themselves to the occupant, who opened the door and who gave his name as Fuller. He stated that William H. Fuller was his son and that his son lived at that address with him. They ascertained from the father that William H. Fuller, the defendant, was employed by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission at an office located in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland.

 They proceeded then to the Montgomery County police station in Silver Spring, Maryland, and secured the assistance of a Montgomery County police officer, who accompanied them to the office in Maryland where the defendant was said to be employed. Upon arrival at the office at about four p.m. the same afternoon, they identified themselves to the person in charge and stated that they wished to talk to Fuller. The latter was located and brought out to meet the officers. Officer Boyd testified that he told Fuller that they would like to talk to him concerning an incident that happened in the District of Columbia, that he did not have to talk if he did not want to, but that if he was willing to talk this interview could take place right there or at the Silver Spring police station. He chose the latter alternative. He was told that he was not under arrest.

 He was then driven to the Silver Spring police station in an unmarked Police Department car, arriving there at about 4:15 p.m. The defendant's version is that the officers did not given him the option of being interviewed at his place of employment or at the police station, but that he was told that they wanted to talk to him at the police station. This minor difference is of no consequence, although the Court is impressed by what appears to be the more accurate memory for details exhibited by the police officers.

 The defendant admits that he was not told that he was under arrest and, in fact, he never was told, he testified, that he was under arrest. He testified that he considered himself under arrest because he thought that he had to go wherever the police wanted him to go. Admittedly he was not handcuffed or under any restraint of any kind. Upon arrival at the Silver Spring, Maryland, police station at about 4:15 p.m. the local officer conducted Officers Boyd and Alexander and the defendant to a room upstairs, where they were left alone.

 The officers questioned him for about ten minutes. In the course of the questioning the defendant identified the address book as his own, but denied any connection with the death of the deceased. He then asked what would happen to him if he admitted his guilt. He was informed that he would be arrested and that what he said would be used against him. He then admitted that he grabbed the woman. The officers informed him that he was then under arrest and that anything he said thereafter would be used against him. According to Officer Boyd about ten minutes elapsed before the defendant made the initial admission. He then made a detailed oral confession that took about fifteen or twenty minutes more.

 The officer testified that until the admission was made there was no probable cause to arrest the defendant. It is conceivable that he might have proved to have been just a witness or a source of information. The moment he made the damaging admission probable cause came into existence.

 The defendant gave his version of the interview, which does not differ in any significant detail from that given by Officer Boyd, except that he thought that the first part of the interview lasted fifteen or twenty minutes instead of ten minutes, as the officer testified. The defendant further testified that the officer said to him that it would be easier for him if he told them what had happened. He also was told, so he testified, that he could be sentenced to life imprisonment or possibly to the electric chair. While he was apprised of his right not to answer any questions and not to say anything, as well as of the fact that anything he said might be used against him, he was not advised that he had a right to a lawyer at that time. He admits, however, that he never asked for a lawyer.

 The defendant testified that he told the officers that he had a bad headache and that one of them asked him if he wanted an aspirin. Upon receiving an affirmative reply one of the officers gave the defendant two aspirin tablets. There is no claim that any violence was used or any threat exerted. There is even no contention that any discourteous language was used or any forceful tone of voice employed. The conversation on both sides was courteous and calm. No ...


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