Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227; 60 S. Ct. 472; 84 L. Ed. 716 (1940)

Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227; 60 S. Ct. 472; 84 L. Ed. 716 (1940)

Facts—On May 13, 1933, Robert Darcy was robbed and murdered in Pompano, Florida. The petitioners in this case were among the suspects rounded up for investigation. They were later removed to Dade County Jail at Miami to protect them against mob violence. For a week’s period the petitioners were continually questioned, and on the night of Saturday, May 20, the questioning routine became an all-night vigil. On Sunday, May 21, Woodward confessed. After one week of constant denial, all the petitioners “broke.” The state utilized these confessions to obtain judgment. The petitioners were not, either in jail or in court, wholly removed from the constant observation, influence, custody, and control of those whose persistent pressure brought about the “sunrise” confessions.

Question—Did the extended interrogation of the defendants violate the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Black (8–0). The due process clause was intended to guarantee adequate and appropriate procedural standards and to protect, at all times, people charged with or suspected of crime. The rights and liberties of people suspected of crime cannot safely be left to secret processes. Those who have suffered most from these secret and dictatorial processes have always been the poor, the ignorant, the weak, and the powerless.

The Fourteenth Amendment required states to conform to fundamental standards of procedure. The law enforcement methods such as those described in this case are not necessary to uphold our laws. The Constitution prohibits such lawless means regardless of the end in view.

Note—The Court went beyond physical coercion to hold that psychological coercion also violates the due process clause, which binds the states.

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