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decided: April 21, 1987.



Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, Blackmun, Powell, and O'Connor, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan and Marshall, JJ., joined, post, p. 211.

Author: Scalia

[ 481 U.S. Page 201]

 JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), we held that a defendant is deprived of his rights under the Confrontation Clause when his non-testifying co-defendant's confession naming him as a participant in the crime is introduced at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed to consider

[ 481 U.S. Page 202]

     that confession only against the co-defendant. Today we consider whether Bruton requires the same result when the co-defendant's confession is redacted to omit any reference to the defendant, but the defendant is nonetheless linked to the confession by evidence properly admitted against him at trial.


Respondent Clarissa Marsh, Benjamin Williams, and Kareem Martin were charged with assaulting Cynthia Knighton and murdering her 4-year-old son, Koran, and her aunt, Ollie Scott. Respondent and Williams were tried jointly, over her objection. (Martin was a fugitive at the time of trial.) At the trial, Knighton testified as follows: On the evening of October 29, 1978, she and her son were at Scott's home when respondent and her boyfriend Martin visited. After a brief conversation in the living room, respondent announced that she had come to "pick up something" from Scott and rose from the couch. Martin then pulled out a gun, pointed it at Scott and the Knightons, and said that "someone had gotten killed and [Scott] knew something about it." Respondent immediately walked to the front door and peered out the peephole. The doorbell rang, respondent opened the door, and Williams walked in, carrying a gun. As Williams passed respondent, he asked, "Where's the money?" Martin forced Scott upstairs, and Williams went into the kitchen, leaving respondent alone with the Knightons. Knighton and her son attempted to flee, but respondent grabbed Knighton and held her until Williams returned. Williams ordered the Knightons to lie on the floor and then went upstairs to assist Martin. Respondent, again left alone with the Knightons, stood by the front door and occasionally peered out the peephole. A few minutes later, Martin, Williams, and Scott came down the stairs, and Martin handed a paper grocery bag to respondent. Martin and Williams then forced Scott and the Knightons into the basement, where Martin shot them. Only Cynthia Knighton survived.

[ 481 U.S. Page 203]

     In addition to Knighton's testimony, the State introduced (over respondent's objection) a confession given by Williams to the police shortly after his arrest. The confession was redacted to omit all reference to respondent -- indeed, to omit all indication that anyone other than Martin and Williams participated in the crime.*fn1 The confession largely corroborated

[ 481 U.S. Page 204]

     Knighton's account of the activities of persons other than respondent in the house. In addition, the confession described a conversation Williams had with Martin as they drove to the Scott home, during which, according to Williams, Martin said that he would have to kill the victims after the robbery. At the time the confession was admitted, the jury was admonished not to use it in any way against respondent. Williams did not testify.

After the State rested, respondent took the stand. She testified that on October 29, 1978, she had lost money that Martin intended to use to buy drugs. Martin was upset, and suggested to respondent that she borrow money from Scott, with whom she had worked in the past. Martin and respondent picked up Williams and drove to Scott's house. During the drive, respondent, who was sitting in the backseat, "knew that [Martin and Williams] were talking" but could not hear the conversation because "the radio was on and the speaker was right in [her] ear." Martin and respondent were admitted into the home, and respondent had a short conversation with Scott, during which she asked for a loan. Martin then pulled a gun, and respondent walked to the door to see where the car was. When she saw Williams, she opened the door for him. Respondent testified that during the robbery she did not feel free to leave and was too scared to flee. She said that she did not know why she prevented the Knightons from escaping. She admitted taking the bag from Martin, but said that after Martin and Williams took the victims into the basement, she left the house without the bag. Respondent insisted that she had possessed no prior knowledge that Martin and Williams were armed, had heard no conversation about anyone's being harmed, and had not intended to rob or kill anyone.

[ 481 U.S. Page 205]

     During his closing argument, the prosecutor admonished the jury not to use Williams' confession against respondent. Later in his argument, however, he linked respondent to the portion of Williams' confession describing his conversation with Martin in the car.*fn2 (Respondent's attorney did not object to this.) After closing arguments, the judge again instructed the jury that Williams' confession was not to be considered against respondent. The jury convicted respondent of two counts of felony murder in the perpetration of an armed robbery and one count of assault with intent to commit murder. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion, People v. Marsh, No. 46128 (Dec. 17, 1980), and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal, 412 Mich. 927 (1982).

Respondent then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U. S. C. ยง 2254. She alleged that her conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence and that introduction of Williams' confession at the joint trial had violated her rights under the Confrontation Clause. The District Court denied the petition. Civ. Action No. 83-CV-2665-DT (ED Mich., Oct. 11, 1984). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. 781 F.2d 1201 (1986). The Court of Appeals held that in determining whether Bruton bars the admission of a non-testifying co-defendant's confession, a court must assess the confession's "inculpatory

[ 481 U.S. Page 206]

     value" by examining not only the face of the confession, but also all of the evidence introduced at trial. 781 F.2d, at 1212. Here, Williams' account of the conversation in the car was the only direct evidence that respondent knew before entering Scott's house that the victims would be robbed and killed. Respondent's own testimony placed her in that car. In light of the "paucity" of other evidence of malice and the prosecutor's linkage of respondent and the statement in the car during closing argument, admission of Williams' confession "was powerfully incriminating to [respondent] with respect to the critical element of intent." Id., at 1213. Thus, the Court of Appeals concluded, the Confrontation Clause was violated. We granted certiorari, 476 U.S. 1168 (1986), because the Sixth Circuit's decision conflicts with those of other Courts of Appeals which have declined to adopt the "evidentiary linkage" or "contextual implication" approach to Bruton questions, see, e. g., United States v. Belle, 593 F.2d 487 (CA3 1979) (en banc).


The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, extended against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the right of a criminal defendant "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." The right of confrontation includes the right to cross-examine witnesses. See Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 404, 406-407 (1965). Therefore, where two defendants are tried jointly, the pretrial confession of one cannot be admitted against the other unless the confessing defendant takes the stand.

Ordinarily, a witness whose testimony is introduced at a joint trial is not considered to be a witness "against" a defendant if the jury is instructed to consider that testimony only against a co-defendant. This accords with the almost invariable assumption of the law that jurors follow their instructions, Francis v. Franklin, 471 U.S. 307, 325, n. 9 (1985), which we ...

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