News Release

Court Blocks Short-Cut to Death Row

Washington, DC (June 10, 1999) --

The U.S. Supreme Court today unanimously agreed that using one suspect’s tape-recorded confession to help convict another suspect violates the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Lilly v. Virginia, 98-5881. Benjamin Lilly’s murder conviction and death sentence were reversed and returned to the Virginia courts to consider whether the constitutional violation was “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.” The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) filed a friend of the court brief urging such a decision.

NACDL President Larry Pozner issued the following statement from his office in Denver today:

“In Virginia, as elsewhere, capital murder prosecutions often involve multiple suspects. Very often, one suspect will talk to the police, trying to shift the blame to someone else as the ‘triggerman’ deserving of the ultimate penalty. These statements are given to officers who have no independent corroborating information and little interest in obtaining it. Prosecutors then try to use such accusations to obtain convictions and death sentences. But where the accuser is not in court to be confronted and cross-examined by the defendant — and observed personally by the jury — the basic premise of our adversary system is destroyed. Using a police station ‘confession’ by one suspect accusing another is a convenient short-cut for prosecutors racking up death sentences, but it’s a blatant violation of America’s fundamental constitutional rights, as the Court properly recognized.”

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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.