Watts v. Indiana
338 U.S. 49, 69 S. Ct. 1347, 93 L. Ed. 1801 (1949)

  • Watts was arrested on suspicion of assault and murder. The police put him in a bare room with no furniture and questioned him on and off for 6 straight days. Eventually he confessed.
    • He was given no hearing or legal counsel during this time.
  • The Trial Court convicted Watts of murder. He appealed.
  • The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Watts appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the confession was inadmissible because it was not voluntary.
      • “A confession by which life becomes forfeit must be the expression of free choice. A statement to be voluntary of course need not be volunteered. But if it is the product of sustained pressure by the police it does not issue from a free choice.”
    • The Court noted that the American legal system is an accusatorial system, not an inquisitorial system.
    • The Court found that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment bars police procedure which “violates our basic notions of our accusatorial mode of prosecuting crime and vitiates a conviction based on the fruits of such procedure.”
  • In a concurrence, it was argued that there are some situations (like this one), in which the police tactic goes too far, and other case (like the companion cases Harris v. South Carolina, and Turner v. Pennsylvania) in which it doesn’t. The courts should balance the rights of the accused with the needs of law enforcement to solve crimes on a case-by-case basis, and not establish any bright-line rules.
  • On reason to throw out involuntary confessions is that they are unreliable. But Watts gave detailed information that was corroborated by other evidence, so his confession turned out to be very reliable.
    • The across the board prohibition was to deter conduct in other cases that could lead to unreliable confessions.
    • Also, the State should not be overriding a person’s free will. That’s evil, even if it is shown to prove reliable results.