|Bumper v. North Carolina
[ Stewart ]
[ Harlan ]
[ Black ]
[ White ]
Bumper v. North Carolina
MR. JUSTICE BLACK, dissenting.
This case, like Witherspoon v. Illinois, ante, p. 510, decided today, was brought to this Court primarily to decide the question whether the constitutional rights of a criminal defendant are violated when prospective jurors who state they are opposed to capital punishment or who have conscientious scruples against imposing the death penalty are excluded for cause. As the Court in Witherspoon limited its holding to the question of punishment, and not of guilt, [n1] the jury issue became moot in this case, since petitioner had been sentenced to life imprisonment. Ironically, however, this case now becomes about as good an example as can be found of the fallacious assumption of the holding in Witherspoon. For the Witherspoon decision rests on the premise that a jury "[c]ulled of all who harbor doubts about the wisdom of capital punishment" is somehow prosecution-prone, callous or even lacking in "charity." [n2] Yet the jury in this case, from which had been excluded all persons who stated they were opposed to the death penalty, unanimously recommended life imprisonment in a case where, but for their recommendation, the death sentence would [p555] have been automatic. [n3] And this is a case where the evidence conclusively showed that the accused twice raped a young woman at gunpoint, shot both the woman and her companion while they were tied helplessly to trees with the announced intention of killing them, and left them for dead. Even with these horrible facts before it, this so-called "prosecution-prone," "callous," and "uncharitable" jury refused to allow imposition of the death penalty and recommended life imprisonment instead. In these circumstances, where the real reason for granting certiorari in the case has disappeared, it seems to me that the Court should dismiss the petition as improvidently granted. This is especially true here, where, as I point out at the end of this opinion, there is an open-and-shut case of guilt, and the petitioner received the lightest sentence available under state law.
Passing over the jury issue, the Court still reverses the conviction in this case and sends it back for a new trial on the ground that the rifle, which the record shows was used to shoot the victims, and which is held by the majority to have been obtained through an unconstitutional search and seizure, was admitted into evidence at petitioner's trial. One of the reasons that I cannot agree with the Court's reversal is because I believe the searching officers had valid permission to conduct their search. The facts surrounding the search are these: Petitioner had been raised by his grandmother, Mrs. Hattie Leath, with whom he was living at the time the rape and assaults were committed. Shortly after the victims were able to recount to the police what had happened to them, the county sheriff, with two of his deputies and a state police officer, went to Mrs. Leath's [p556] house. One of the deputies went up on the porch of the house and stated to Mrs. Leath, who was standing inside the screen door, that he had a warrant to search her house. He did not appear to have any paper in his hand, and he did not read anything to her. Mrs. Leath's immediate response, without mentioning anything about a warrant or asking to see it or read it or have it read to her, was to tell the deputy "to come on in." At the trial, Mrs. Leath described her reaction to the visit of the law officers as follows:
He did tell me he had a search warrant. I don't know if Sheriff Stockard was with him. I was not paying much attention. I told Mr. Stockard [after he had come up on the porch] to go ahead and look all over the house. I had no objection to them making a search of my house. I was willing to let them look in any room or drawer in my house they wanted to. Nobody threatened me with anything. Nobody told me they were going to hurt me if I didn't let them search my house. Nobody told me they would give me any money if I would let them search. I let them search, and it was all my own free will. Nobody forced me at all.
My study of the record in this case convinces me that Mrs. Leath voluntarily consented to this search, [n4] and in fact that she actually wanted the officers to search her house -- to prove to them that she had nothing to hide. Mrs. Leath's readiness to permit the search was the action of a person so conscious of her innocence, so proud of her own home, [n5] that she was not going to require [p557] a search warrant, thus indicating a doubt about the rectitude of her household. There are such people in this world of ours, [n6] and the evidence in this case causes me to believe Mrs. Leath is one of them. As she herself testified, "I just give them a free will to look, because I felt like the boy wasn't guilty."
Despite the statements of Mrs. Leath cited above, and despite the clear finding of consent by the trial judge, who personally saw and heard Mrs. Leath testify, [n7] this Court, refusing to accept Mrs. Leath's sworn testimony that she did freely consent and, overruling the trial judge's findings, concludes on its own that she did not consent. I do not believe the Court should substitute what it believes Mrs. Leath should have said for what she actually said -- "it was all my own free will." I cannot accept what I believe to be an unwarranted conclusion by the Court.
Even assuming for the purposes of argument that there was no consent to search and that the rifle which was [p558] seized from Mrs. Leath's house should not have been admitted into evidence, I still believe the conviction should stand. For the overwhelming evidence in this case, even when the rifle and related testimony are excluded, amply demonstrates petitioner's guilt. Unfortunately, to show this, it is necessary to go into the sordid facts of the case. The victims were a young man and his girlfriend. At trial, both testified in detail to the following: they were parked shortly after dusk on a country road not far from where the petitioner Bumper lived. Bumper approached the car, stuck a rifle barrel up to the window and ordered the girl to get out of the car, indicating that, if she refused he would shoot her. Both got out of the car and Bumper ordered the girl to undress, stating that "I want a white girl's p____." When the girl adamantly refused, Bumper pointed the rifle at the young man, and the girl, understanding that she must submit or her boy friend would be killed, followed Bumper's orders. Bumper then forced the young man into the rear seat of the car, requiring him to stay down on the floor, while Bumper raped the girl on the back of the car. A short time after this, Bumper forced the couple to drive to another spot. Here he made them get out of the car and walk down a dirt road into some bushes. At this time Bumper told the couple he was going to kill them, and when they pleaded with him to let them go, he replied, "I can't do it; you will go to the cops." The couple then suggested that, if Bumper would tie them up and blindfold them that he could get away with no problem. This Bumper did, tying each to a separate tree. But he did not leave. Instead he raped the girl again while she was tied to the tree. After this, Bumper went over to the young man and felt his chest, asking him where his heart was and if he was scared. He then cooly proceeded to shoot the young man where he thought his heart was. The girl, tied to the tree and [p559] blindfolded, heard the shot, and a moment later herself was shot through the left breast close to her heart. Bumper then took the car and drove away, obviously believing he had killed the young couple. They were able to free themselves, however, and with much difficulty made their way to a nearby house where the owner got them to a hospital. [n8] The time during which the couple was held captive was approximately an hour and a half. During that time, they clearly got to know who their assailant was. Both got a plain view of Bumper right at the beginning of their ordeal when they opened the car doors and saw his face in the light coming from the inside of the car. Moreover, the undisputed evidence in the record shows that the night of the attack was a bright moonlit night. Both testified positively at trial that it was Bumper. [n9] Also there was substantial corroborating evidence outside of that relating to the rifle. Here we have the clear and convincing testimony of the two victims, whose characters were in no way impeached or challenged. The only witnesses at the trial were state [p560] witnesses (the two victims plus medical and police testimony), and none of their testimony was refuted or denied in any way. Thus, this is a case where every word of evidence introduced at trial pointed to guilt, and there was no challenge to the truthfulness of the State's evidence, nor to the character of any of its witnesses. Yet even with all this, the Court persists in reversing the case, thus requiring the State to hold a new trial if it wishes to punish Bumper for his crimes.
When it is clear beyond all shadow of a doubt, as here, that a defendant committed the crimes charged, I do not believe that this Court should enforce on the States a "per se" rule automatically requiring a new trial in every case where this Court concludes that some part of the evidence was obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure. The primary reason the "exclusionary rule" was adopted by this Court was to deter unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643. But see my concurring opinion at 661-666. I believe that the deterrence desired by some can be served adequately without blind adherence to a mechanical formula that requires automatic reversal in every case where the exclusionary rule is violated. While little is known about the effect the exclusionary rule really has on actual police practices, I think it is a fair assumption that refusal to reverse a conviction of a defendant, because of the admission of illegally seized evidence, where other evidence conclusively demonstrates his guilt, is not going to lessen police sensitivity to the exclusionary rule, thereby reducing its deterrent effect. Obviously, at the time a search is carried out, the police are not going to know whether the evidence they hope to obtain is going to be necessary for the prosecution's case, and, of course, if they know it will not be necessary, no search is needed. Thus, the only effect of not automatically reversing all cases in which there [p561] has been a violation of the exclusionary rule will be to allow state convictions of obviously guilty defendants to stand. And they should stand.
In this case, as I have shown, the evidence of the two victims points positively to guilt without any doubt. When there is added to this the fact that the rifle, from which came the bullets which went into the bodies of the two victims, was found where Bumper lived, which was not far from the scene of the assault, this makes, as the North Carolina Supreme Court pointed out, assurance doubly sure. Whether one views the evidence of guilt with or without the rifle, the conclusion is inescapable that this defendant committed the crimes for which the jury convicted him. In these circumstances, no State should be forced to give a new trial; justice does not require it. [n10]
1. See ante at 522, n. 21.
2. See ante at 520, n. 17.
3. See N.C.Gen.Stat. § 121. The Court imposed additional sentences of 10 years' imprisonment, to run consecutively, on the two felonious assault charges.
4. Mrs. Leath's voluntary consent was sufficient to validate the search, since she owned the house which was searched and the rifle that was taken. It should also be noted that the rifle was not found in petitioner's private room, nor in any part of the house assigned to him, but in the kitchen behind the door.
5. Mrs. Leath owned the house in which she was living, and, throughout her questioning, repeatedly referred to "my house."
6. See Commonwealth v. Tucker, 189 Mass. 457, 469, 76 N.E. 127, 131. In this case, a mother consented for officers who were looking for broken pieces of a knife used in a murder to search her home. The Court found that officers went
to the door of the house where Tucker resided, and stated to his mother, at the outside door of the house that they had this search warrant to search for the article named therein . . . , that she . . . invited the officers to make all the search they desired, saying that she knew her son to be innocent, and thereupon the officers made search, not upon the warrant, but in consequence of her invitation. . . .
The knife blade was admitted against the contention that it was barred by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
7. The finding of the court was as follows:
The Court finds that from the evidence of Mrs. Hattie Leath that it is of a clear and convincing nature that she, the said Mrs. Hattie Leath, voluntarily consented to the search of her premises, as is more particularly set forth in her evidence, and that that consent was specifically given, and is not the result of coercion from the officers.
8. It was on these facts and this testimony, it must be remembered, that this jury, selected in the way Witherspoon holds is designed to produce a "hanging" jury, recommended a life sentence for petitioner.
9. The Court's opinion attempts to convey the impression that the victims were not sure of their assailant's identification because of an alleged mistake during a police lineup. See majority opinion, n. 16. This completely overlooks the fact, however, that, before Bumper was arrested, and before the victims had any idea of their attacker's name or where he was from, the girl, while still in the hospital, identified Bumper's picture from a number of others. The young man also had identified Bumper's picture days before the lineup was held. After the girl went through the lineup the first time she confessed that she was too scared to look at the men and that she had made no real attempt at identification. And it should not be forgotten that she testified positively under oath at trial that "In my own mind, I am certain [that Bumper was my assailant], and nothing could really dissuade me from it. I haven't made up my mind; I know."
10. 28 U.S.C. § 2106 provides:
The Supreme Court or any other court of appellate jurisdiction may affirm, modify, vacate, set aside or reverse any judgment, decree, or order of a court lawfully brought before it for review, and may remand the cause and direct the entry of such appropriate judgment, decree, or order, or require such further proceedings to be had as may be just under the circumstances.