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United States v. Fraction

argued: January 10, 1986.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT,
v.
LAWRENCE C. FRACTION, APPELLEE



Appeal from an Order Suppressing a Confession in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (Criminal No. 85-145-1).

Author: Fullam

Opinion OF THE COURT

BEFORE: GARTH and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges, and FULLAM, District Judge*fn*

FULLAM, District Judge.

The government appeals from an Order of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey suppressing a confession as involuntary. The district court ruled that the confession had been improperly induced by promises.

We accept as as correct the findings of historical fact made by the district judge. They may be summarized as follows:

On September 2, 1984, an FBI agent named White traveled to the Rahway State Prison in New Jersey in order to question the defendant, Lawrence Fraction, about a 1983 robbery of a bank in Woodbury, New Jersey. Fraction had just begun serving a 15-year state sentence on other, unrelated, charges.

The questioning took place in an interview room at the prison. Only the two men were present. According to the agent, whose testimony was credited by the district judge, the interview began with a comment from Fraction to the effect that he had been expecting the FBI to call upon him. Agent White then read Fraction his Miranda warnings, and Fraction signed he waiver from.*fn1 Fraction then stated that he would not be willing to testify against Samuel Hutchings. And Fraction asked what he would receive in return for cooperation. The agent replied as follows:

"At that time, I advised him that he would not have to testify against Mr. Hutchings.

"I also told him that I would not be able to promise him anything in terms of help other than to notify the U.S. Attorney and a sentencing judge that he had cooperated in the matter. And that was the extent of what I could do for him."

Fraction then proceeded to make a full statement about the bank robbery. The entire interview lasted about one-half hour.

The district court ruled that this statement was not voluntary and must therefore be suppressed. This ultimate legal conclusion of involuntariness is subject to plenary review. In Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 106 S. Ct. 445, 88 L. Ed. 2d 405 (1985), the Supreme Court held that voluntariness is a simple question of law and fact subsuming a complex of values, and as such cannot be treated as a simple question of historical fact. Although Miller dictates plenary review of ultimate voluntariness findings in the context of federal habeas corpus review of state court determinations, the Supreme Court's reasoning and holding suggest that a similar approach is also appropriate in deciding a direct federal appeal.

In granting the suppression motion, the district court purported to follow the holding of Bram v. U.S., 168 U.S. 532, 18 S. Ct. 183, 42 L. Ed. 568 (1897), and specifically the following oft-quoted language from that decision:

"[A] confession, in order to be admissible, must be free and voluntary: that is, must not be extracted by any sort of threats or violence, nor obtained by any direct or implied promises, however slight, nor by the ...


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