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Brown v. Mississippi

True Confessions

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that no suspect "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." This statutory protection of the rights of the individual creates legal problems for authorities seeking to use confessions as evidence in court. Traditionally, the Supreme Court applied the common law test of voluntariness to determine the legality of criminal confessions in federal cases. This test required that a confession be "an essentially free and unconstrained choice by its maker" to be legally admissible, and denied the use in court of any confession that was coerced from a suspect by the authorities. The states, however, were free to develop their own rules regarding the legality of confessions.

Although the states were free to make their own rules regulating criminal procedure, they were limited by their need to adhere to the Constitution's guarantee of Due Process as set forth in the Fourteenth Amendment. Snyder v. Massachusetts (1934), confirmed the ability of federal judiciary to invalidate state criminal procedures if they were judged to "offend some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Brown v. Mississippi - Significance, True Confessions, A Travesty Of Justice, Due Process