Supreme Court Review.

The Court’s review of the question of admissibility of confessions or other incriminating statements is designed to prevent the foreclosure of the very question to be decided by it, the issue of voluntariness under the due process standard, the issue of the giving of the requisite warnings and the subsequent waiver, if there is one, under the Miranda rule. Recurring to Justice Frankfurter’s description of the inquiry as a “three-phased process” in due process cases at least,408 it can be seen that the Court’s self-imposed rules of restraint on review of lower-court factfinding greatly influenced the process. The finding of facts surrounding the issue of coercion—the length of detention, circumstances of interrogation, use of violence or of tricks and ruses, et
cetera—is the proper function of the trial court which had the advantage of having the witnesses before it. “This means that all testimonial conflict is settled by the judgment of the state courts. Where they have made explicit findings of fact, those findings conclude us and form the basis of our review—with the one caveat, necessarily, that we are not to be bound by findings wholly lacking support in evidence.”409

However, the conclusions of the lower courts as to how the accused reacted to the circumstances of his interrogation, and as to the legal significance of how he reacted, are subject to open review. “No more restricted scope of review would suffice adequately to protect federal constitutional rights. For the mental state of involuntariness upon which the due process question turns can never be affirmatively established other than circumstantially—that is, by inference; and it cannot be competent to the trier of fact to preclude our review simply be declining to draw inferences which the historical facts compel. Great weight, of course, is to be accorded to the inferences which are drawn by the state courts. In a dubious case, it is appropriate . . . that the state court’s determination should control. But where, on the uncontested external happenings, coercive forces set in motion by state law enforcement officials are unmistakably in action; where these forces, under all the prevailing states of stress, are powerful enough to draw forth a confession; where, in fact, the confession does come forth and is claimed by the defendant to have been extorted from him; and where he has acted as a man would act who is subjected to such an extracting process— where this is all that appears in the record—a State judgment that the confession was voluntary cannot stand.”410 Miranda, of course, does away with the judgments about the effect of lack of warnings, and the third phase, the legal determination of the interaction of the first two phases, is determined solely by two factual determinations: whether the warnings were given and if so whether there was a valid waiver. Presumably, supported determinations of these two facts by trial courts would preclude independent review by the Supreme Court. Yet, the Court has been clear that it may and will independently review the facts when the factfinding has such a substantial effect on constitutional rights.411

In Withrow v. Williams,412 the Court held that the rule of Stone v. Powell,413 precluding federal habeas corpus review of a state prisoner’s claim that his conviction rests on evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search or seizure, does not extend to preclude federal habeas review of a state prisoner’s claim that his conviction rests on statements obtained in violation of the safeguards mandated by Miranda.


Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 603–06 (1961). back
367 U.S. at 603. See Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 152–53 (1944); Lyons v. Oklahoma, 322 U.S. 596, 602–03 (1944); Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 50–52 (1949); Gallegos v. Nebraska, 342 U.S. 55, 60–62 (1951); Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 180–82 (1953); Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U.S. 560, 561–62 (1958). back
Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 605 (1961). See Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 51 (1949); Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401, 404, 417 (1945). back
“In cases in which there is a claim of denial of rights under the Federal Constitution this Court is not bound by the conclusions of lower courts, but will re-examine the evidentiary basis on which those conclusions are founded.” Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 271 (1951); Time, Inc. v. Pape, 401 U.S. 279, 284 (1971), and cases cited therein. back
507 U.S. 680 (1993). back
428 U.S. 465 (1976). See discussion of Stone v. Powell under the Fourth Amendment, infra. back