certiorari to the court of appeals of maryland
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
Anthony Bell confessed to the police that he, petitioner Gray, and another man participated in the beating that caused Stacy Williams' death. After the third man died, a Maryland grand jury indicted Bell and Gray for murder, and the State tried them jointly. When the trial Judge permitted the State to introduce a redacted version of Bell's confession, the detective who read it to the jury said "deleted" or "deletion" whenever the name of Gray or the third participant appeared. Immediately after that reading, however, the detective answered affirmatively when the prosecutor asked, "after [Bell] gave you that information, you subsequently were able to arrest ... Gray; is that correct?" The State also introduced a written copy of the confession with the two names omitted, leaving in their place blanks separated by commas. The Judge instructed the jury that the confession could be used as evidence only against Bell, not Gray. The jury convicted both defendants. Maryland's intermediate appellate court held that Bruton v. United States, 391 U. S. 123, prohibited use of the confession and set aside Gray's conviction. Maryland's highest court disagreed and reinstated that conviction.
Held: The confession here at issue, which substituted blanks and the word "delete" for Gray's proper name, falls within the class of statements to which Bruton's protective rule applies. Pp. 3-11.
(a) Bruton also involved two defendants tried jointly for the same crime, with the confession of one them incriminating both himself and the other. This Court held that, despite a limiting instruction that the jury should consider the confession as evidence only against the confessing codefendant, the introduction of such a confession at a joint trial violates the nonconfessing defendant's Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine witnesses. The Court explained that this situation, in which the powerfully incriminating extrajudicial statements of a codefendant are deliberately spread before the jury in a joint trial, is one of the contexts in which the risk that the jury will not, or cannot, follow limiting instructions is so great, and the consequences of failure so devastating to the defendant, that the introduction of the evidence cannot be allowed. See 391 U. S., at 135-136. Bruton's scope was limited by Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U. S. 200, 211, in which the Court held that the Confrontation Clause is not violated by the admission of a nontestifying codefendant's confession with a proper limiting instruction when the confession is redacted to eliminate not only that defendant's name, but any reference to his or her existence. Pp. 3-5.
(b) Unlike Richardson's redacted confession, the confession here refers directly to Gray's "existence." Redactions that simply replace a name with an obvious blank space or a word such as "deleted" or a symbol or other similarly obvious indications of alteration leave statements that, considered as a class, so closely resemble Bruton's unredacted statements as to warrant the same legal results. For one thing, a jury will often react similarly to an unredacted confession and a confession redacted as here, for it will realize that the confession refers specifically to the defendant, even when the State does not blatantly link the defendant to the deleted name, as it did below by asking the detective whether Gray was arrested on the basis of information in Bell's confession. For another thing, the obvious deletion may well call the jurors' attention specially to the removed name. By encouraging the jury to speculate about the reference, the redaction may overemphasize the importance of the confession's accusation -- once the jurors work out the reference. Finally, Bruton's protected statements and statements redacted to leave a blank or some other similarly obvious alteration, function the same way grammatically: They point directly to, and accuse, the nonconfessing codefendant. Pp. 5-8.
(c) Although Richardson placed outside Bruton's scope statements that incriminate inferentially, 481 U. S., at 208, and the jury must use inference to connect Bell's statements with Gray, Richardson does not control the result here. Inference pure and simple cannot make the critical difference. If it did, then Richardson would also place outside Bruton's scope confessions that use, e.g., nicknames and unique descriptions, whereas this Court has assumed that such identifiers fall inside Bruton's protection, see Harrington v. California, 395 U. S. 250, 253. Thus, Richardson must depend in significant part upon the kind of, not the simple fact of, inference. Richardson's inferences involved statements that did not refer directly to the defendant himself, but became incriminating "only when linked with evidence introduced later at trial." 481 U. S., at 208. In contrast, the inferences here involve statements that, despite redaction, obviously refer directly to someone, often obviously to Gray, and involve inferences that a jury ordinarily could make immediately, even were the confession the very first item introduced at trial. Richardson's policy reasons for its Conclusion -- that application of Bruton's rule would force prosecutors to abandon use either of the confession or of a joint trial in instances where adequate redaction would "not [be] possible," id., at 209, and would lead to those same results, or provoke mistrials, because of the difficulty of predicting, before introduction of all the evidence, whether Bruton barred use of a particular confession that incriminated "by connection," see ibid. -- are inapplicable in the circumstances here. Pp. 8-11.
Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a Dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Kennedy and Thomas, JJ., joined.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
KEVIN D. GRAY, PETITIONER v. MARYLAND
on writ of certiorari to the court of appeals of maryland
Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue in this case concerns the application of Bruton v. United States, 391 U. S. 123 (1968). Bruton involved two defendants accused of participating in the same crime and tried jointly before the same jury. One of the defendants had confessed. His confession named and incriminated the other defendant. The trial Judge issued a limiting instruction, telling the jury that it should consider the confession as evidence only against the codefendant who had confessed and not against the defendant named in the confession. Bruton held that, despite the limiting instruction, the Constitution forbids the use of such a confession in the joint trial.
The case before us differs from Bruton in that the prosecution here redacted the codefendant's confession by substituting for the defendant's name in the confession a blank space or the word "deleted." We must decide whether these substitutions make a significant legal difference. We hold that they do not and that Bruton's protective rule applies.
In 1993, Stacy Williams died after a severe beating. Anthony Bell gave a confession, to the Baltimore City police, in which he said that he (Bell), Kevin Gray, and Jacquin "Tank" Vanlandingham had participated in the beating that resulted in Williams' death. Vanlandingham later died. A Maryland grand jury indicted Bell and Gray for murder. The State of Maryland tried them jointly.
The trial Judge, after denying Gray's motion for a separate trial, permitted the State to introduce Bell's confession into evidence at trial. But the Judge ordered the confession redacted. Consequently, the police detective who read the confession into evidence said the word "deleted" or "deletion" whenever Gray's name or Vanlandingham's name appeared. Immediately after the police detective read the redacted confession to the jury, the prosecutor asked, "after he gave you that information, you subsequently were able to arrest Mr. Kevin Gray; is that correct?" The officer responded, "That's correct." App. 12. The State also introduced into evidence a written copy of the confession with those two names omitted, leaving in their place blank white spaces separated by commas. See Appendix, infra. The State produced other witnesses, who said that six persons (including Bell, Gray, and Vanlandingham) participated in the beating. Gray testified and denied his participation. Bell did not testify.
When instructing the jury, the trial Judge specified that the confession was evidence only against Bell; the instructions said that the jury should not use the confession as evidence against Gray. The jury convicted both Bell and Gray. Gray appealed.
Maryland's intermediate appellate court accepted Gray's argument that Bruton prohibited use of the confession and set aside his conviction. 107 Md. App. 311, 667 A. 2d 983 (1995). Maryland's highest court disagreed and reinstated the conviction. 344 Md. 417, 687 A. 2d 660 (1997). We granted certiorari in order to consider Bruton's application to a redaction that replaces a name with an obvious blank space or symbol or word such as"deleted."
In deciding whether Bruton's protective rule applies to the redacted confession before us, we must consider both Bruton, and a later case, Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U. S. 200 (1987), which limited Bruton's scope. We shall briefly summarize each of these two cases.
Bruton, as we have said, involved two defendants -- Evans and Bruton -- tried jointly for robbery. Evans did not testify, but the Government introduced into evidence Evans' confession, which stated that both he (Evans) and Bruton together had committed the robbery. 391 U. S., at 124. The trial Judge told the jury it could consider the confession as evidence only against Evans, not against Bruton. Id., at 125.
This Court held that, despite the limiting instruction, the introduction of Evans' out-of-court confession at Bruton's trial had violated Bruton's right, protected by the Sixth Amendment, to cross-examine witnesses. Id., at 137. The Court recognized that in many circumstances a limiting instruction will adequately protect one defendant from the prejudicial effects of the introduction at a joint trial of evidence intended for use only against a different defendant. Id., at 135. But it said that
"there 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. Such 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. Not only are the incriminations devastating to the defendant but their credibility is inevitably suspect . . . . The unreliability of such evidence is intolerably compounded when the alleged accomplice, as here, does not testify and cannot be tested by cross-examination." Id., at 135-136 (citations omitted).
The Court found that Evans' confession constituted just such a "powerfully incriminating extrajudicial statemen[t]," and that its introduction into evidence, insulated from cross-examination, violated Bruton's Sixth Amendment rights. Id., at 135.
In Richardson v. Marsh, supra, the Court considered a redacted confession. The case involved a joint murder trial of Marsh and Williams. The State had redacted the confession of one defendant, Williams, so as to "omit all reference" to his codefendant, Marsh -- "indeed, to omit all indication that anyone other than . . . Williams" and a third person had "participated in the crime." Id., at 203 (emphasis in original). The trial court also instructed the jury not to consider the confession against Marsh. Id., at 205. As redacted, the confession indicated that Williams and the third person had discussed the murder in the front seat of a car while they traveled to the victim's house. Id., at 203-204, n. 1. The redacted confession contained no indication that Marsh -- or any other person -- was in the car. Ibid. Later in the trial, however, Marsh testified that she was in the back seat of the car. Id., at 204. For that reason, in context, the confession still could have helped convince the jury that Marsh knew about the murder in advance and therefore had participated knowingly in the crime.
The Court held that this redacted confession fell outside Bruton's scope and was admissible (with appropriate limiting instructions) at the joint trial. The Court distinguished Evans' confession in Bruton as a confession that was "incriminating on its face," and which had "expressly implicat[ed]" Bruton. 481 U. S., at 208. By contrast, Williams' confession amounted to "evidence requiring linkage" in that it "became" ...