Confessions Implicating Bruton

When there are codefendants in a case, the issue of confessions can implicate the Confrontation Clause and the right to confront witnesses. If two defendants are tried jointly, and the State wants to use the confession of one of them against the other, the other defendant cannot confront his codefendant because he has a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. These types of situations create Bruton issues. Usually to get around this, the State is allowed to introduce the confession of the codefendant, as long as it redacts any mention of the other defendant. Sometimes the redactions aren’t enough, and the jury could still infer who the codefendant was referring to, and thus implicating him in the crime. Other times the confession does not implicate the other defendant on its face, but other evidence in the trial would allow a juror to reasonably infer the connection – which is likely permissible.

A Bruton violation occurs when two defendants, A and B, are tried jointly, and defendant A makes a confession that inculpates defendant B. If defendant A does not testify, then A's statement against B is inadmissible because B will be unable to exercise his right under the Confrontation Clause to cross-examine A.” · State v. King, 367 S.C. 131 (Ct. App. 2005)


In a joint trial, Bruton prohibited the introduction of a non-testifying codefendant’s out of court statement that on its face incriminated the other defendant. However, the United States Supreme Court held that if the confession is not incriminating on its face, but evidence introduced later in the trial makes it incriminating, then a jury instruction might suffice and allow in the confession. See also United States v. Benson, 957 F.3d 218 (4th Cir. 2020) (“Richardson v. Marsh made clear that Bruton’s rule was a narrow one.”)· Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200 (1987)


“The inferences at issue here involve statements that, despite redaction, obviously refer directly to someone, often obviously the defendant, and which involve inferences that a jury ordinarily could make immediately, even were the confession the very first item introduced at trial. Moreover, the redacted confession with the blank prominent on its face, in Richardson's words, ‘facially incriminat[es]’ the codefendant.” · Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185 (1998)


A redacted confession might still violate Bruton if it is inferable on its face who the redaction is referring to. The Court cites several examples where redactions were insufficient and the confessions incriminated the defendant. In this case, the State redacted a non-testifying codefendant’s statement so that only the word “rapeist” remained. The Court held that this was nontestimonial and thus did not violate Bruton – even though evidence introduced later at trial would make the redacted statement incriminating against the defendant. · State v. Prather, 429 S.C. 583 (2020)


A codefendant’s confession was properly redacted to eliminate defendant’s name. However, the investigator gave testimony at trial that allowed the jury to infer that the redacted name was the defendant’s. Trial court should have granted the mistrial motion. “Under Bruton, a non-testifying co-defendant's confession that inculpates another defendant is inadmissible at their joint trial, even if the jury is instructed that the confession can only be used as evidence against the confessor. However, such a confession may be admissible if the confession is redacted in a way that removes any reference to the non-testifying codefendant.” · State v. Johnson, 390 S.C. 600 (2010)


The Supreme Court interpreted Bruton in a narrow sense: it “applies only when the statement implicates the defendant ‘on its face’; the rule does not apply where the statement becomes incriminating only when linked to other evidence introduced at trial, such as the defendant’s own testimony.” In this case, the trial court should not have admitted a redacted statement where the defendants name was redacted with the pronoun “she” because this defendant was the only female. · State v. Holder, 382 S.C. 278 (2009)


A self-inculpatory statement should be limited to the parts that are self-inculpatory to the declarant. The exception does not allow a broader narrative that includes non-self-inculpatory statements. · State v. Holmes, 342 S.C. 113 (2000)


A defendant’s confession or statement should be limited based on SCRE 403. Only the parts that are relevant and material should be admitted. See also State v. Myers, 359 S.C. 40 (2004) (A confession must be voluntarily made and not coerced.). · State v. Nelson, 331 S.C. 1 (1998)