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Arizona v. Fulminante

United States Supreme Court
499 U.S. 279 (1991)


Facts

Fulminante (defendant) was convicted of murdering an 11-year-old girl in Arizona. About two years after the murder, Fulminante was serving time in a New York jail for illegal possession of a firearm. He became friends with another inmate, Sarivola, who was a paid informant for the FBI. After hearing rumors that Fulminante was suspected of killing a girl in Arizona, Sarivola set out to obtain a confession from him. Sarivola offered to protect Fulminante from the other inmates who were starting to harass him due to the rumors of him molesting a young girl. However, Sarivola told Fulminante that he had to disclose the whole truth before Sarivola could properly protect him. As a result, Fulminante eventually confided in Sarivola and confessed to the murder in extreme detail. The state supreme court held that this confession was coerced. Applying the totality of the circumstances test, the court held that the confession was not voluntarily made because Fulminante was forced to confess in order to avoid a credible threat of physical violence. A few months later, Fulminante was released from jail. Sarivola and his wife drove Fulminante to Pennsylvania and on the way, Fulminante made another detailed confession to Sarivola’s wife. At trial, Fulminante moved to suppress the two confessions. The trial court denied the motion, finding that both confessions were voluntary. On appeal, the state supreme court initially found that Fulminante’s confession to Sarivola was coerced but that it amounted to harmless error. Fulminante filed a motion for reconsideration. The state supreme court then held that under the precedent of the United States Supreme Court, in cases involving coerced confessions, the harmless-error analysis could not be used. The state supreme court reversed Fulminante’s conviction. The court ordered a new trial in which Fulminante’s confession to Sarivola would be excluded.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

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Concurrence (Kennedy, J.)

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Dissent (White, J.)

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Dissent (Rehnquist, C.J.)

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