For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 6

Samia v. United States:
The Bruton Problem Continues
Harry Sandick and Nicole Scully1
I
n 1968, the Supreme Court held in Bruton v. United States
that a defendant was deprived of his rights under the
Confrontation Clause when a nontestifying codefendant's
confession naming the defendant as a participant in the crime
was introduced in their joint trial, regardless of any instruction
that the jury should consider the confession only against the
confessing defendant. The Bruton Court reasoned that " [t]here
are some contexts in which the risk that the jury will not, or
cannot, follow instructions is so great, and the consequences
of failure so vital to the defendant, that the practical and
human limitations of the jury system cannot be ignored. " 3
The Court explained that " [s]uch a context is presented here,
where the powerfully incriminating extrajudicial statements
of a codefendant, who stands accused side-by-side with the
defendant, are deliberately spread before the jury in a joint
trial. " 4
Unless the confessing codefendant testifies at trial
and is subject to cross-examination, the admission of such a
confession violates the Confrontation Clause. In order to
avoid a violation of the defendant's constitutional rights, the
government was presented with a choice: it could agree to
a severance so that it could offer the confession against the
confessing defendant only, or it could agree not to offer the
confession in a joint trial.
In the past 55 years, courts have grappled with how to
interpret the Supreme Court's Bruton rule and how to admit
6 For The Defense l Vol. 8, Issue 3
accomplice confessions in ways that did not raise constitutional
concerns for nonconfessing codefendants. Subsequent
Supreme Court precedent provided additional guidance. In
Richardson v. Marsh,5
the Court found no Bruton problem
This redacted confession was
where the confession was redacted to remove any reference to
another participant in the crime.6
admissible even though the confession indirectly incriminated
the codefendant (whose name was redacted) later in the trial
when her own testimony placed her inside the car that the
confession described.7
The Court stated that a confession that
only incriminates a codefendant " by connection " with later
evidence was not as " powerful[] " as a confession that was
incriminating on its face.8
For this reason, the Court thought
the jury was more likely to obey a limiting instruction to
only consider the confession with respect to the confessing
defendant.9
In Gray v. Maryland,10
however, the Court held that a
codefendant's confession was inadmissible where the
prosecution redacted references to the nonconfessing
defendant with the word " deleted. " 11
The Court reasoned
that, where the redaction is so obvious, the jury will " realize
that the confession refers specifically to the defendant, " even
if other evidence does not " blatantly link the defendant to the
deleted name. " 12
problem and therefore is not permitted.
This type of redaction implicates the Bruton

For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3

Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 1
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 2
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 4
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 5
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 6
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 7
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 8
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