WASHINGTON – Johnnie Corley confessed twice to robbing a credit union in Norristown,Pa.,but the Supreme Court questioned Wednesday whether police waited too long to present him to a judge.
To Corley,the answer to this question means a lot. Excluding his confession could reverse his conviction.
David McColgin,assistant federal defender in Philadelphia,argued that law enforcement officials deliberately delayed presenting Corley to a magistrate judge to obtain his confession after his Sept. 17,2003,arrest on charges of assaulting a police officer in a different case.
Corley did not appear in court until 29 hours after his arrest.
McColgin argued that because Corley was not taken before a judge within a reasonable amount of time,or less than six hours as determined by a previous Supreme Court decision and subsequent federal law,that means Corley's voluntary confession was inadmissible.
“You live by the text,you die by the text,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito.
After his arrest,Corley was taken to the Sharon Hill Borough Police Department,then to a hospital a few hours later for a hand injury related to the alleged assault.
He was later taken to the Philadelphia FBI office,where he waived his Miranda rights and confessed to the robbery. He gave a second,written confession the following day,after which he was presented to a judge for the first time.
McColgin argued that Corley's two voluntary confessions may not be enough.
“If you take your position,” Alito said,”the defendant automatically walks – the confession is thrown out.”
Arguing on behalf of the federal government,Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben said Corley waived his Miranda rights,meaning the time limit no longer applied. He said several courts have agreed with that interpretation.
The case is Corley v. the United States.
In a second case,the court heard arguments involving Donnie Ventris,who made self-incriminating statements to his cellmate,who had agreed to cooperate with police.
The court must now decide if the statements,which violated his Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer,can be used against him.
Ventris was convicted in Kansas of aggravated burglary and aggravated assault and acquitted of murder.
Justice Stephen Breyer said it was a case of “simple ethics” that police or their agents should not talk to a defendant without his lawyer being present.
“It's the deliberate solicitation and use of statements obtained from the defendant that would violate the Sixth Amendment,” said Stephen R. McAllister,Kansas solicitor general.
Matthew J. Edge argued on Ventris's behalf that the Sixth Amendment violation occurred when the statement was taken from Ventris,and further aggravated when the statement was used in court to counter Ventris's testimony.
“When the police obtain these kinds of statements,even if they are not used at trial,it does work a harm on the defendant and his relationship with counsel,” he said.
The case is Kansas v. Ventris.
The court is expected to rule on both cases before July.
The court ruled in a case involving a girl in kindergarten who was subjected to ongoing sexual harassment on the school bus. Her parents complained to the school in Barnstable,Mass.,but nothing was done.
The parents eventually sued,but were told that neither federal law they cited applied. The court reversed that ruling and sent the case back to the lower court. The case is Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee.