When is a Confession Not Admissible in Federal Court?


          Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5 states in part that “[a] person making an arrest within the United States must take the defendant without unnecessary delay before a magistrate judge, . . ., unless a statute provides otherwise.”

          But what happens if the police violate this rule and the defendant confesses to committing a crime after he is arrested but before he is taken before a judge?

          The United States Supreme Court addressed this question in a case called Corley v. United States.  The relevant facts in that case are as follows:

          “Corley was arrested for assaulting a federal officer at about 8 a.m. Around 11:45 FBI agents took him to a Philadelphia hospital to treat a minor injury. At 3:30 p.m. he was taken from the hospital to the local FBI office and told that he was a suspect in a bank robbery. Though the office was in the same building as the nearest magistrate judges, the agents did not bring him before a magistrate judge, but questioned him, hoping for a confession. At 5:27 p.m., some 9.5 hours after his arrest, Corley began an oral confession that he robbed the bank. He asked for a break at 6:30 and was held overnight. The interrogation resumed the next morning, ending with his signed written confession. He was finally presented to a Magistrate Judge at 1:30 p.m., 29.5 hours after his arrest, and charged with armed bank robbery and related charges.”

          Corley subsequently filed a motion to suppress in which he asked the lower court to throw out his confession because the FBI agents who arrested him violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 5 by waiting so long before letting him see a magistrate judge.  The lower court denied his motion, and Corley was eventually convicted of conspiracy and bank robbery.

          Corley’s case ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court which ended up ruling in Corley’s favor (but by a vote of just 5 to 4).

          Writing for the majority, Justice Souter noted that the Supreme Court has long held that confessions are inadmissible in court when they are obtained in violation of the rule requiring recently-arrested defendants be brought promptly before a magistrate judge.

          Justice Souter stated that “[i]n a world without [this rule], federal agents would be free to question suspects for extended periods before bringing them out in the open, and we have always known what custodial secrecy leads to.  . . .  No one with any smattering of the history of 20th-century dictatorships needs a lecture on the subject, and we understand the need even within our own system to take care against going too far. ‘[C]ustodial police interrogation, by its very nature, isolates and pressures the individual,’ . . . , and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed . . . .”