William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


Welsh S. White


The admissibility of an accomplice's confession against a criminal defendant has long been a subject of concern in Anglo-American law. The Supreme Court has held that accomplices' confessions to the police are presumptively unreliable under the Confrontation Clause, without clearly expressing what facts would lend to the reliability of such statements. However, Professor White argues that in Williamson v. United States, the Court adopted an empirical framework that will make such confessions more likely to be admissible against an accused.

In this Article, Professor White first explores the traditional skepticism towards accomplices' confessions and explains the nature of the current Confrontation Clause test. He then focuses on Williamson and its analysis of an accomplice's confession's admissibility under Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3). Professor White argues that in Williamson, a majority of the Court adopted the position that a confession may be admissible if it is inculpatory, and not given as the result of a police inducement, such as a promise of leniency. He then attacks the empirical premises underlying this position, basing his arguments on the practical realities of police questioning and human nature. Professor White concludes that an accomplice's confession to the police is per se unreliable, and should never be introduced as evidence of the guilt of an accused.

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