Arizona v. Fulminante

499 U.S. 279 (1991)

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Arizona v. Fulminante

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

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Facts

Oreste Fulminante (defendant) was suspected of murdering his 11-year-old stepdaughter in Arizona. Fulminante was later convicted of illegally possessing a firearm and sentenced to time in a New York prison. While in prison, Fulminante made friends with another inmate, Anthony Sarivola, who Fulminante believed was involved with organized crime. Sarivola was a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The other inmates were starting to harass Fulminante due to rumors about him molesting and killing a young girl. Fulminante was not a physically large person. To get a confession from Fulminante, Sarivola offered to protect Fulminante from the other inmates, but only if Fulminante disclosed the whole truth to Sarivola. In response, Fulminante confessed to Sarivola about the murder in detail. After both Sarivola and Fulminante were released from prison, Fulminante met with Sarivola and Sarivola’s future wife. Fulminante confessed to Sarivola’s future wife, in detail, about killing his stepdaughter. Later, Fulminante was indicted in Arizona for the first-degree murder of his stepdaughter. Fulminante moved to suppress the two confessions, arguing that they were coerced confessions that violated his constitutional rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court found that both confessions were voluntary and admitted them. Fulminante was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The Arizona Supreme Court found that the confession to Sarivola was coerced and should have been excluded. However, initially, the state supreme court also found that this was a harmless error and affirmed Fulminante’s conviction. The court then reconsidered its ruling, determining that a coerced confession could never be a harmless error. The state supreme court reversed Fulminante’s conviction and ordered a new trial without evidence of Fulminante’s confession to Sarivola. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (White, Rehnquist, J.J.)

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