16.16 - A. The Bruton

JurisdictionNew York

A. The Bruton2243 Rule

The U.S. Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals have both recognized the value and desirability of joint trials of defendants from the viewpoint of judicial economy and efficiency.2244 However, joint trials sometimes bring co-defendants’ individual rights into conflict. Where defendant A has confessed to the police and, in his confession, implicated co-defendant B in the crime, the admission of A’s confession into evidence at A and B’s joint trial will clearly be extremely damaging to B. Of course, B has a constitutional right to cross-examine his accusers under the confrontation clause,2245 but A has the right not to testify if he so chooses. Thus, if A does not testify, B cannot cross-examine A regarding the reliability of his confession. Although the judge can instruct the jury that they are not to consider A’s statements regarding B’s participation in the crime, since confessions generally have a strong impact on juries, the jury may well ignore the judge’s instruction. It is in this factual context that the Bruton line of cases has evolved.

The Bruton case itself involved the fact pattern recited above. The U.S. Supreme Court held that where a nontestifying defendant’s confession is to be introduced at a joint trial, and the confession powerfully and directly implicates a co-defendant, the co-defendant has a right to a separate trial since a joint trial would constitute a denial of the co-defendant’s rights under the confrontation clause.

The Bruton rule clearly does not apply where the confession of a defendant in a joint trial does not incriminate any of his co-defendants.2246 It is also clear that Bruton is inapplicable where the confessing defendant takes the stand at trial, since his co-defendants can now cross-examine him regarding his statement in which he implicated them in the crime.2247 It is inapplicable to the statement of a co-defendant to a policeman, admitted not for its truth, but solely to establish the officer’s state of mind if relevant to an issue on trial.2248 Questioning a defendant about the thought processes of his accomplice does not implicate Bruton, or the rule against hearsay since questions themselves are not hearsay. They are not offered for their truth.2249 Finally, Bruton is inapplicable to statements made during the course of a conspiracy that are introduced to prove the conspiracy charge.2250


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Notes:

[2243] . Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968).

[2244] . See Richardson v...

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