The Supreme Court Overrides the Fifth Amendment
HE Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution stands
with the First Amendment as a bulwark against religious and civil
persecution. The Fifth Amendment states,
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or
otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand
Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the
militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall
any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of
life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness
against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use
without just compensation.
In essence, the Fifth Amendment guarantees that no
coerced confessions may be used in court as evidence against the accused.
This Amendment guarantees that torture, physical or psychological, may not
be used against an individual accused of felony as a means to extract a
confession of guilt from him. Only confessions freely stated may be cited
as evidence in court. Such a guarantee is an essential protection to all
citizens if faithfully implemented. An even better system of justice in
this matter was that held by the Jews in Christís day. The confession of
one accused was inadmissible, whether coerced or freely made (see chapter
26 entitled "The Jewish System of Justice"). Such a rule of
evidence insures that court torture is valueless in aiding the prosecutionís
case by the use of personal confession.
However, in a five-to-four decision on March 26 1991,
the Supreme Court breached the Fifth Amendment. It must not be forgotten
that the first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitution constitute the U.
S. Bill of Rights, highly prized by freedom-loving people everywhere.
Voting 5 to 4, the court said some convictions may be
allowed to stand despite the use of confessions obtained in violation
of the defendantís constitutional rights. In an opinion by Chief
Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court said that there may be so much
other evidence of guilt that the use of an involuntary confession could be
considered "harmless error." The Washington Post, March
27 1991, emphasis added
To uphold the decision of a court of law which includes
evidence contrary to the Bill of Rights, surely is wholly unacceptable and
would breech the Bill of Rights itself. Further, to refer to certain
coerced confessions as "harmless error," is to countenance
pre-trial torture of one kind or another. Are such activities ever
"harmless error"? It is unlikely that the victim would consider
the coercion in such a light.
Certainly Justice Byron White, one of the four
dissenting justices, did not concur with the majority decision. In
language full of significance for Christians who recall the horrors of the
Roman Catholic Inquisition of the past, Justice White stated,
Permitting a coerced confession to be part of the
evidence on which a jury is free to base its verdict of guilty is
inconsistent with the thesis that ours is not an inquisitional system
of criminal justice. Ibid., emphasis added
Ruth Marcus observed that in practice, before this
Supreme Court opinion was handed down, the court had in recent years used
the "harmless error" test to uphold more and more convictions,
despite the clear violation of the defendantís constitutionally
guaranteed rights. Thus, unlike earlier court decisions, the recent court
has allowed decisions to stand in cases where there has been evidence
which included illegal seizure, or confessions obtained in violation of
the defendantís right to counsel (ibid.).
The case in question was the appeal of Oreste
Fulminante, an Arizona resident, who confessed to murdering his
11-year-old step-daughter. The confession was made to a fellow prison
inmate who, unbeknown to Fulminante, was actually working as a government
informant. The paid F.B.I. informant, Anthony Sarivola, masqueraded as a
figure involved in organized crime. Sarivola won the friendship of
Fulminante, then told Fulminante that he knew other inmates were harassing
him because of rumors that he had murdered a child. Sarivola offered to
protect Fulminante, but only if he knew the truth concerning the murder of
the child. The crime truly was a fearful one. Fulminante, who also
confessed to Sarivolaís wife after he had been released from prison
after serving time on an unrelated matter, admitted taking his
step-daughter to the desert, choking her, sexually assaulting her, and
making her beg for her life, before shooting her twice in the head.
Fulminante was sentenced to die on the basis of the two confessions.
By a five-to-four vote of the Supreme court, Fulminanteís
conviction was overturned and a new trial ordered, because his confession
had been obtained through the threat of physical violence.
After the handing down of this Supreme Court decision
concerning "harmless error," a number of appeals citing coercion
were rejected because of the Supreme Courtís ruling (ibid.).
Ruth Marcus noted the dependence of the majority
opinion upon the Supreme Courtís 1967 opinion in Chapman v.
California. In this case the court declared that not all
constitutional violations required the criminal conviction to be
overturned, providing the trial judgeís error in admitting the evidence
was harmless "beyond a reasonable doubt." The court had to be
confident that the error had no effect on the ultimate conviction by the
jury. However, in the Chapman case, the court said that some
constitutional rights were so basic to obtaining a fair trial that their
violation could never be treated as harmless error. In the Chapman
opinion, the justices specifically referred to coerced confessions as one
such basic constitutional right. Thus the Chapman case, rather than
supporting the breach of the Fifth Amendment as "harmless," in
fact explicitly excluded it from such a definition. Nevertheless, Chief
Justice Rehnquist greatly restricted the "error" required to
automatically overturn the conviction of a lower court. His opinion
maintained that only "structural defects" that affect "the
entire conduct of the trial from beginning to end"ósuch as a
failure to provide a lawyer for the defendant, or having a biased judge
preside over the caseórequired automatic reversal (ibid.). Surely, as in
the Smith case, the Fulminante case has seen the justices of the Supreme
Court violate their vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States of
The timing of the Supreme Court opinion concerning
"harmless error" seemed particularly unfortunate. It came at the
time of great national consternation in the United States concerning the
brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police. The incident had been
captured on home video by a citizen who happened to be close by.
The connection between Rodney Kingís beating and the
Supreme Court decision was not lost on Washington Postís cartoonist
Herblock. In the Washington Postís March 27 1991 edition,
Herblock depicted a burly Los Angeles police officer clenching a large
baton, reading the headlines of the Supreme Courtís "harmless
error" decision and saying, "Some good news for a change."
The sentiments of the cartoonist unquestionably captured the reactions of
many U. S. citizens concerned at the dangerous erosion of the civil and
religious freedoms in their beloved country (ibid.).
It must not be forgotten that no appeal court can
rightly judge the degree to which a coerced confession was weighted in the
minds of the jury members when they voted their decision of guilty. While
the Appeal Court may believe that there "was so much evidence"
as to merit a conviction, the jury may have decided otherwise. It is the
jury which must be left to make such decisions. If the other evidence is
so overwhelming as to convince a jury, surely there is no need to
introduce evidence gained by illegal coercion. We must never forget that
this decision opens the way for various forms of torture to be used to
extract confessions, a decision inconsistent with civilized society.
Inevitably the use of physical and psychological torture increases the
number of innocent persons convicted.
With the Smith case, as well as the Fulminante case of
Arizona cited above, we see that the Supreme Court provides a mechanism
for voiding the guarantees enshrined in the Bill of Rights without the use
of the complicated and difficult procedures necessary to alter the
Constitution. It is a mechanism full of danger to the citizens of the
United States, and if left unchecked, will almost certainly lead to the
United States abrogating every element of justice and liberty.
There seems little doubt that the weakening of the
civil protection under the Fifth Amendment to the American Constitution
plays a part in the alarming incidence of crime, especially violent crime,
in the United States. However, while we abhor the violence and crime in
society, and believe that every legal effort must be made to prevent such
crime and to punish the perpetrators of these crimes, we cannot but
deplore the use of anti-Constitutional measures to apprehend and convict
suspected felons. Surely, as noted above, such violation of basic human
rights will inevitably lead to the conviction and imprisonment, even the
execution of innocent citizens.
The Bible prophesies a time when freedoms will be taken
from the citizens of the planet.
And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth;
and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he
exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the
earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose
deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh
fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceiveth
them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had
power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the
earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by
a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the
beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as
many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he
causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to
receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man
might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or
the number of his name. Revelation 13:11Ė17
For such a denial of liberty to occur, both religious
and civil freedoms must be greatly violated. It appears that will
inevitably be the result of the current Supreme Court rulings. Since the
United States is now dominant in world affairs, and must unite with
countries which presently deny liberty in fulfillment of the prophecy
cited above, it is beholden upon each citizen to arouse himself to oppose
these decisions of the Supreme Court. Jury members need to be alerted to
their responsibilities in these matters.
There can be no doubt that central to the prophecy
cited, worship is the key issue.
And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast
before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship
the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. . . . And he had power to
give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should
both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image
of the beast should be killed. Revelation 13:12, 15, emphasis added
That the economic boycott and death are universal is
implied by the word all,
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich
and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in
their foreheads. Revelation 13:16, emphasis added
Further, the prophecy plainly states,
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him,
whose names are not written in the book of life of the lamb slain from the
foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8, emphasis added
It would appear that the United States has already taken the first
major steps required to fulfill this prophecy. This course has not been
enacted by Congress, nor has a Constitutional Convention removed the First
and Fifth Amendments. Five justices of the Supreme Court, exceeding their
prerogative, have been permitted to imperil the religious and civil
liberties of the nation and set it on course to fulfill divine prophecy.