Whether admitting a codefendant’s redacted out-of-court confession that immediately inculpates a defendant based on the surrounding context violates the defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
Prosecutors have long tried criminal defendants jointly in cases where the defendants are alleged to have engaged in a common criminal scheme. However, when prosecutors seek to introduce a nontestifying defendant’s confession implicating his codefendants, a constitutional concern may arise. The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment states that, “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” And, in Bruton v. United States, 391 U. S. 123, 88 S. Ct. 1620, 20 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1968), this Court “held that a defendant is deprived of his rights under the Confrontation Clause when his nontestifying codefendant’s confession naming him as a participant in the crime is introduced at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed to consider that confession only against the codefendant.” Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U. S. 200, 201-202, 107 S. Ct. 1702, 95 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1987).
Here, we must determine whether the Confrontation Clause bars the admission of a nontestifying codefendant’s confession where (1) the confession has been modified to avoid directly identifying the nonconfessing codefendant and (2) the court offers a limiting instruction that jurors may consider the confession only with respect to the confessing codefendant. Considering longstanding historical practice, the general presumption that jurors follow their instructions, and the relevant precedents of this Court, we conclude that it does not.
This case was decided 6/23/2023. Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the court, in which Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh joined. Justice Barrett joined the majority opinion in part and filed a separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Sotomayor and Jackson joined. Justice Jackson also filed a dissenting opinion.