New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
May 6, 2009

Statements Obtained Outside Six Hours of Arrest Inadmissible, Supreme Court holds, if Delay in Presentment Unreasonable

Confessions made outside six hours of arrest and before arraignment in court – even if Mirandized and entirely voluntary– must be suppressed unless the delay in presentment was necessary or reasonable, the Supreme Court held in Corley v. United States, 2009 WL 901513 (U.S. April 6, 2009). 

The issue in the case turned on whether 18 U.S.C. § 3501 over-ruled or merely limited the Court’s rule in McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332 (1943) and Mallory v. United States, 354 U.S. 449 (1957).  The McNabb-Mallory rule held that confessions made during periods of detention that violated the prompt presentment requirement were inadmissible.  § 3501 provides, in part, that a confession shall not be inadmissible solely because of a delay in presentment if the confession is found by the trial judge to have been made voluntarily and within six hours of arrest. 

Analyzing its language and legislative history, the Court held that § 3501 modified but did not supplant the McNabb-Mallory rule.  Essentially, it gives arresting officers a six-hour safe harbor during which a defendant’s statements may not be suppressed solely because of a delay in presentment.  “If the confession occurred before presentment and beyond six hours, however, the court must decide whether delaying that long was unreasonable or unnecessary under the McNabb-Mallory cases, and if it was, the confession is to be suppressed.”

This has been the law in the Second Circuit for decades, but what is especially notable about the Court’s decision in Corley is its recognition that the prompt presentment requirement is not “just some administrative nicety” but is an important protection against forced and false confessions.  The Court goes on:

In a world without McNabb-Mallory, federal agents would be free to question suspects for extended periods before bringing them out in the open, and we have always known what custodial secrecy leads to.  No one with any smattering of the history of 20th-century dictatorships needs a lecture on the subject, and we understand the need even within our own system to take care against going too far. ‘[C]ustodial police interrogation, by its very nature, isolates and pressures the individual,’ and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed (my emphasis; citations omitted).

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