Pointer v. Texas

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS

No. 577 Argued: March 15, 1965 --- Decided: April 5, 1965
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Sixth Amendment provides in part that:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses [p401] against him . . . and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Two years ago, in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, we held that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of right to counsel obligatory upon the States. The question we find necessary to decide in this case is whether the Amendment's guarantee of a defendant's right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him," which has been held to include the right to cross-examine those witnesses, is also made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The petitioner Pointer and one Dillard were arrested in Texas and taken before a state judge for a preliminary hearing (in Texas, called the "examining trial") on a charge of having robbed Kenneth W. Phillips of $375 "by assault, or violence, or by putting in fear of life or bodily injury," in violation of Texas Penal Code Art. 1408. At this hearing, an Assistant District Attorney conducted the prosecution and examined witnesses, but neither of the defendants, both of whom were laymen, had a lawyer. Phillips, as chief witness for the State, gave his version of the alleged robbery in detail, identifying petitioner as the man who had robbed him at gunpoint. Apparently Dillard tried to cross-examine Phillips, but Pointer did not, although Pointer was said to have tried to cross-examine some other witnesses at the hearing. Petitioner was subsequently indicted on a charge of having committed the robbery. Some time before the trial was held, Phillips moved to California. After putting in evidence to show that Phillips had moved and did not intend to return to Texas, the State at the trial offered the transcript of Phillips' testimony given at the preliminary hearing as evidence against petitioner. Petitioner's counsel immediately objected to introduction of the transcript, stating, "Your Honor, we will object to that, as it is a denial of the confrontment of the witnesses against the Defendant." [p402] Similar objections were repeatedly made by petitioner's counsel, but were overruled by the trial judge, apparently in part because, as the judge viewed it, petitioner had been present at the preliminary hearing, and therefore had been "accorded the opportunity of cross-examining the witnesses there against him." The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest state court to which the case could be taken, affirmed petitioner's conviction, rejecting his contention that use of the transcript to convict him denied him rights guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. 375 S.W.2d 293. We granted certiorari to consider the important constitutional question the case involves. 379 U.S. 815.

In this Court, we do not find it necessary to decide one aspect of the question petitioner raises, that is, whether failure to appoint counsel to represent him at the preliminary hearing unconstitutionally denied him the assistance of counsel within the meaning of Gideon v. Wainwright, supra. In making that argument, petitioner relies mainly on White v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 59, in which this Court reversed a conviction based in part upon evidence that the defendant had pleaded guilty to the crime at a preliminary hearing, where he was without counsel. Since the preliminary hearing there, as in Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52, was one in which pleas to the charge could be made, we held in White, as in Hamilton, that a preliminary proceeding of that nature was so critical a stage in the prosecution that a defendant at that point was entitled to counsel. But the State informs us that, at a Texas preliminary hearing, such as is involved here, pleas of guilty or not guilty are not accepted, and that the judge decides only whether the accused should be bound over to the grand jury, and, if so, whether he should be admitted to bail. Because of these significant differences in the procedures of the respective States, we cannot say that the White case is necessarily controlling [p403] as to the right to counsel. Whether there might be other circumstances making this Texas preliminary hearing so critical to the defendant as to call for appointment of counsel at that stage we need not decide on this record, and that question we reserve. In this case, the objections and arguments in the trial court, as well as the arguments in the Court of Criminal Appeals and before us, make it clear that petitioner's objection is based not so much on the fact that he had no lawyer when Phillips made his statement at the preliminary hearing as on the fact that use of the transcript of that statement at the trial denied petitioner any opportunity to have the benefit of counsel's cross-examination of the principal witness against him. It is that latter question which we decide here.

I

The Sixth Amendment is a part of what is called our Bill of Rights. In Gideon v. Wainwright, supra, in which this Court held that the Sixth Amendment's right to the assistance of counsel is obligatory upon the States, we did so on the ground that

a provision of the Bill of Rights which is "fundamental and essential to a fair trial" is made obligatory upon the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.

372 U.S. at 342. And last Term, in Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, in holding that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against self-incrimination was made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth, we reiterated the holding of Gideon that the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel guarantee is "‘a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial,'" and "thus was made obligatory on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment." 378 U.S. at 6. See also Murphy v. Waterfront Comm'n, 378 U.S. 52. We hold today that the Sixth Amendment's right of an accused to confront the witnesses against him is likewise a fundamental right, and is made obligatory on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment [p404]

It cannot seriously be doubted at this late date that the right of cross-examination is included in the right of an accused in a criminal case to confront the witnesses against him. And probably no one, certainly no one experienced in the trial of lawsuits, would deny the value of cross-examination in exposing falsehood and bringing out the truth in the trial of a criminal case. See, e.g., 5 Wigmore, Evidence § 1367 (3d ed.1940). The fact that this right appears in the Sixth Amendment of our Bill of Rights reflects the belief of the Framers of those liberties and safeguards that confrontation was a fundamental right essential to a fair trial in a criminal prosecution. Moreover, the decisions of this Court and other courts [*] throughout the years have constantly emphasized the necessity for cross-examination as a protection for defendants in criminal cases. This Court, in Kirby v. United States, 174 U.S. 47, 55, 56, referred to the right of confrontation as "[o]ne of the fundamental guarantees of life and liberty," and

a right long deemed so essential for the due protection of life and liberty that it is guarded against legislative and judicial action by provisions in the Constitution of the United States and in the constitutions of most if not of all the States composing the Union.

Mr. Justice Stone, writing for the Court in Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 692, declared that the right of cross-examination is "one of the safeguards essential to a fair trial." And, in speaking of confrontation and cross-examination, this Court said in Greene v. McElroy, 360 U.S. 474:

They have ancient roots. They find expression in the Sixth Amendment which provides that, in all [p405] criminal cases the accused shall enjoy the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." This Court has been zealous to protect these rights from erosion.

360 U.S. at 496-497 (footnote omitted). There are few subjects, perhaps, upon which this Court and other courts have been more nearly unanimous than in their expressions of belief that the right of confrontation and cross-examination is an essential and fundamental requirement for the kind of fair trial which is this country's constitutional goal. Indeed, we have expressly declared that to deprive an accused of the right to cross-examine the witnesses against him is a denial of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process of law. In In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, this Court said:

A person's right to reasonable notice of a charge against him, and an opportunity to be heard in his defense -- a right to his day in court -- are basic in our system of jurisprudence, and these rights include, as a minimum, a right to examine the witnesses against him, to offer testimony, and to be represented by counsel.

333 U.S. at 273 (footnote omitted). And earlier this Term, in Turner v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466, 472-473, we held:

In the constitutional sense, trial by jury in a criminal case necessarily implies at the very least that the "evidence developed" against a defendant shall come from the witness stand in a public courtroom where there is full judicial protection of the defendant's right of confrontation, of cross-examination, and of counsel.

Compare Willner v. Committee on Character & Fitness, 373 U.S. 96, 103-104. [p406]

We are aware that some cases, particularly West v. Louisiana, 194 U.S. 258, 264, have stated that the Sixth Amendment's right of confrontation does not apply to trials in state courts, on the ground that the entire Sixth Amendment does not so apply. See also Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 195-196. But, of course, since Gideon v. Wainwright, supra, it no longer can broadly be said that the Sixth Amendment does not apply to state courts. And, as this Court said in Malloy v. Hogan, supra,

The Court has not hesitated to reexamine past decisions according the Fourteenth Amendment a less central role in the preservation of basic liberties than that which was contemplated by its Framers when they added the Amendment to our constitutional scheme.

378 U.S. at 5. In the light of Gideon, Malloy, and other cases cited in those opinions holding various provisions of the Bill of Rights applicable to the States by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment, the statements made in West and similar cases generally declaring that the Sixth Amendment does not apply to the States can no longer be regarded as the law. We hold that petitioner was entitled to be tried in accordance with the protection of the confrontation guarantee of the Sixth Amendment, and that that guarantee, like the right against compelled self-incrimination, is

to be enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment.

Malloy v. Hogan, supra, 378 U.S. at 10.

II

Under this Court's prior decisions, the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of confrontation and cross-examination was unquestionably denied petitioner in this case. As has been pointed out, a major reason underlying the [p407] constitutional confrontation rule is to give a defendant charged with crime an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him. See, e.g., Dowdell v. United States, 221 U.S. 325, 330; Motes v. United States, 178 U.S. 458, 474; Kirby v. United States, 174 U.S. 47, 55-56; Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 242-243. Cf. Hopt v. Utah, 110 U.S. 574, 581; Queen v. Hepburn, 7 Cranch 290, 295. This Court has recognized the admissibility against an accused of dying declarations, Mattox v. United States, 146 U.S. 140, 151, and of testimony of a deceased witness who has testified at a former trial, Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 240-244. See also Dowdell v. United States, supra, 221 U.S. at 330; Kirby v. United States, supra, 174 U.S. at 61. Nothing we hold here is to the contrary. The case before us would be quite a different one had Phillips' statement been taken at a full-fledged hearing at which petitioner had been represented by counsel who had been given a complete and adequate opportunity to cross-examine. Compare Motes v. United States, supra, 178 U.S. at 474. There are other analogous situations which might not fall within the scope of the constitutional rule requiring confrontation of witnesses. The case before us, however, does not present any situation like those mentioned above or others analogous to them. Because the transcript of Phillips' statement offered against petitioner at his trial had not been taken at a time and under circumstances affording petitioner through counsel an adequate opportunity to cross-examine Phillips, its introduction in a federal court in a criminal case against Pointer would have amounted to denial of the privilege of confrontation guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Since we hold that the right of an accused to be confronted with the witnesses against him must be determined by the same standards whether the right is denied in a federal or state proceeding, [p408] it follows that use of the transcript to convict petitioner denied him a constitutional right, and that his conviction must be reversed.

Reversed and remanded.
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