Tulsa Attorney BlogWhat is a Bruton Issue in Criminal Defense Law?

The Court Ruled That the Instruction to the Jury Was Not Enough

Video Transcribed: What is a Bruton issue in criminal defense. I’m a criminal defense attorney Tulsa, OK, James Wirth, and that is the topic of the day, Bruton issues and concerns. And the name comes from the United States Supreme Court case of Bruton v. the United States.

That is a 1968 case 391 U.S. 123 and it has to do with fundamental fairness for a defendant, the right to confront your accuser, and hearsay. And all of those things are involved here. And the scenario for Bruton was, is that two defendants were accused of a crime and they decided to have those trials.

The court decided to have those trials jointly together. So the state was prosecuting both of them for the same or related offenses in the same trial. And Bruton did not make a confession, but the allegation is that co-defendant did make a confession and that confession by the co-defendant incriminated both Bruton and the co-defendant.

So now we go into some rules, fundamental fairness confrontation. In the case of somebody who makes a confession that stated confession is not hearsay or is hearsay, but there’s an exception to hearsay because it’s a statement against their own interests. So that is admissible and we see that all the time, people are convicted based on their confessions all the time, if that were ruled inadmissible hearsay, that would never happen.

But there’s a rule that allows that. However, if the confession also incriminates your co-defendant, but you’re also on trial and therefore going to keep your right to remain silent and not testify, then the person that’s making the claims against you is not actually testifying, you do not have the ability to confront them and cross-examine them.

And there is no hearsay exception involving that circumstance. So when you have a joint trial where defendants are being charged and tried together, and one of them made a confession, that confession is admissible to the person that confessed, but not admissible as to the other party.

what is a bill of attainderSo how do you treat that? Well, in the Bruton case, initially, the trial court treated it as judges often do, well, we’ll have a jury instruction that indicates that that confession is only to be used in determining the guilt of the person making the confession, not to the co-defendant that was also incriminated.

And that is the issue that came up before the United States Supreme Court in Bruton is they decide, is that enough, is that fair, are Bruton’s rights violated as far as violating his right to confrontation? And is that a violation of hearsay rules?

And the court ruled that the instruction to the jury was not enough. It is highly prejudicial to him. And because it is hearsay from the co-defendant, that it is subject to reliability concerns. And because of that, the court reversed, it found that it was not a fair trial.

And now we’ve got the Bruton issue that can be raised if there’s a possibility that there is a co-defendant being charged in the same case and they would try to admit incriminating statements from that co-defendant that may affect the defendant.

So under those circumstances, it is proper to divide those two cases and have separate trials so that the confession can be used against the defendant that confessed, but it is inadmissible in the other case against the defendant and the defense attorney needs to bring that up as a Bruton issue and object to that if they try to do it differently.

If you’ve got questions about trial practice, criminal defense, and how it may apply to your case, or case of a friend of yours, or a family member of yours, you’re going to want to talk to an attorney specifically that, confidentially about that. To get that scheduled, you can go online to makelaweasy.com.

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