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Ashcraft v. Tennessee

United States Supreme Court
322 U.S. 143 (1944)


Facts

The police took E. E. Ashcraft (defendant) into custody on a Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. to question him regarding the murder of his wife, Zelma, nine days earlier. Ashcraft was seated at a table with a light over his head in a homicide-investigation office at the county jail. Ashcraft was interrogated by officers in shifts for 36 straight hours without a break until Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. The State of Tennessee (plaintiff) alleged that, after the first 28 hours of questioning, Ashcraft said that a man named Ware had abducted Zelma and likely killed her. The police took Ware into custody that night. Ware allegedly confessed to the murder on Monday morning at 5:40 a.m. and stated that Ashcraft had hired him to commit the murder. The state alleged that Ashcraft was presented with Ware’s statement on the same morning at 9:30 a.m. and that he admitted to the truth of the statement. Ashcraft refused to sign a transcript of his purported statement, but the statement was witnessed by several people who had been brought into the room at the end of the examination. The state alleged that Ashcraft was treated kindly throughout the interrogation and appeared normal, with no outward sign of being tired at the time of the alleged confession. The state admitted that the officers questioned Ashcraft in shifts because they needed rest. Ashcraft denied making any confession and alleged that he was threatened and abused in various ways throughout the interrogation. Ashcraft alleged that the light seemed blinding, his body became weary, and the stress became unbearable. Ashcraft was convicted as an accessory before the fact. The Supreme Court of Tennessee affirmed, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Black, J.)

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Dissent (Jackson, J.)

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