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 Chapter 8

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 America.

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.

 


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