For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 7

In the recent Supreme Court term, the Court returned to the
Bruton problem in Samia v. United States,13 where defendant
Samia's name was replaced with the phrase " other person " in
his codefendant's confession.14
The Supreme Court approved
of this formulation even though the evidence offered by the
government at trial made it obvious to the jury that Samia
was the " other person. " In deciding that the " other person "
redaction sufficiently safeguarded Samia's Confrontation
Clause right, the majority's analysis failed to engage fully
with its own precedent, side-stepping around the confession's
inculpatory impact by ignoring the context in which the jury
heard the redacted confession.15
As discussed further below,
the newest iteration of the Bruton rule could prove more
challenging for nonconfessing codefendants because it permits
trial courts to decide whether or not a redacted confession
obviously implicates the defendant only by considering the
" four corners " of the redacted confession, and nothing else.
This will be especially true in those Circuits that have, up until
now, followed a rule that considered the confession's context
beyond the " four corners " when determining if a redaction is
sufficient.
Samia v. United States: Background
On June 23, 2023, in Samia v. United States, the Supreme
Court reviewed whether the admission of an accomplice
confession in the petitioner's joint trial violated his rights
under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. In a
6-3 decision, the Court ruled that there was no violation.
Adam Samia, along with Joseph Hunter and Carl Stillwell,
Stillwell confessed to DEA
At their joint trial in the Southern
The confession was redacted
But elsewhere during the
were charged in a multicount indictment for the murder of
Catherine Lee in the Philippines.16
agents that he was present in the van when and where Lee was
murdered, but that he was only the driver of the van and that
it was Samia who shot Lee.17
District of New York, Stillwell's confession was admitted
through DEA Agent Eric Stouch.18
to replace Samia's name with the phrase " other person. " 19
The jury was instructed to consider Stillwell's confession as
only evidence against Stillwell.20
trial, Agent Stouch testified to other details about the " other
person, " describing him as someone with whom Stillwell lived
and traveled with, and who carried a certain type of firearm.21
Codefendant Hunter, who hired Samia and Stillwell, was not
implicated by Stillwell's confession. The jury convicted all three
defendants on all counts.22
Samia appealed his conviction to the Second Circuit. He
argued that the admission of Stillwell's confession violated
his Confrontation Clause right because other evidence and
statements at trial led the jury to immediately connect the
" other person " to Samia.23
For example, the government's
opening statement claimed that " Stillwell drove the van while
Samia 'was in the passenger seat,' and that Samia pulled out
a gun, 'turned around, aimed carefully and shot [Lee].' " 24
As another example, the government " stated that 'Stillwell
admitted to driving the car while the man he was with turned
around and shot [Lee].' " 25
The Second Circuit disagreed that Samia's constitutional
rights were violated. It analyzed the redacted accomplice
confession in isolation from all other trial evidence and noted
that it was the Second Circuit's longstanding practice to admit
accomplice confessions that replace a codefendant's name
with a neutral noun or pronoun.27
Samia then appealed to the
Supreme Court of the United States.
The Majority Opinion
Writing for the majority in
Samia v. United States, Justice
Thomas began his analysis
by recounting a purported
historical practice that allowed
a nontestifying codefendant's
confession to be admitted in
a joint trial as long as the jury
was instructed not to consider
it
as
evidence
against
the
a narrow exception to this presumption.30
nonconfessing defendant.28
The majority focused its
analysis on the law's " broad[]
assumption that jurors can
be relied upon to follow a
trial judge's instructions " 29
and characterized Bruton as
Justice Thomas
then described the Court's other post-Bruton precedents:
(i) Richardson v. Marsh held that Bruton did not bar the
admission of accomplice confessions that do not name the
other defendant, and (ii) Gray v. Maryland held that Bruton
prohibited
the
admission
of
" certain
obviously
redacted
confessions " that may be " directly accusatory, " even if they did
not use a defendant's name.31
The majority thus narrowed the scope of the Court's inquiry
in Samia to determining whether Stillwell's confession directly
or indirectly implicated Samia, noting that the latter " indirect "
association is constitutionally permissible based on their view
of Richardson and the Court's other precedents.32
Justice
Thomas also argued that the Court's prior precedents did
not require the Court to " flyspeck trial transcripts in search
of evidence that could give rise to a collateral inference that
the defendant had been named in an altered confession. " 33
Therefore, without any analysis of the other testimony or
statements made or elicited by the government at Samia's trial,
the majority concluded that Stillwell's confession did not run
afoul of the Confrontation Clause because it did not explicitly
name Samia and it was accompanied by a limiting instruction.34
The Dissenting Opinions
The government also elicited
testimony that Samia and Stillwell coordinated their travel
to the Philippines and lived together there; that Samia had
the type of gun used to shoot Lee; and then the government
highlighted in its closing argument that Stillwell " 'described a
time when the other person he was with [in the Philippines]
pulled the trigger on that woman in a van that Stillwell was
driving.' " 26
Thus, Samia argued, these statements made
Justice Kagan and Justice Jackson each wrote dissenting
opinions, with Justice Jackson and Justice Sotomayor both
joining in Justice Kagan's dissent. Justice Kagan's dissent
explained that the majority opinion elevated " form over
substance " by allowing the replacement of the defendant's
name with a placeholder, " no matter how obvious the
reference to the defendant. " 35
She also expressed concern that
the decision represented the first step in overruling Bruton
itself.
Vol. 8, Issue 3 l For The Defense 7
throughout the trial, taken together with the trial evidence as
a whole, made it clear to the jury that the " other person " was
Samia in Stillwell's confession.

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
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 9
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 10
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 11
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 12
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 13
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 14
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 15
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 16
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 17
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 18
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 19
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 20
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 21
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 22
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 23
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 24
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 25
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 26
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 27
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 28
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 29
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 30
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 31
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 32
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 33
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 34
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For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 36
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 37
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For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 40
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 41
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 42
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 43
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For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 45
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 46
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For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 69
For the Defense - Vol. 8, Issue 3 - 70
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