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CALIFORNIA IN BRIEF : SAN FRANCISCO : Court to Decide on Coerced Confessions

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The state Supreme Court says it will decide whether to follow its federal counterpart and allow a criminal conviction to stand after the jury has heard a coerced confession. Overturning many years of decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that the use of a coerced confession as evidence did not automatically require reversal of a conviction, but could be considered “harmless error” if it could not have affected the jury’s verdict. California law at least as far back as 1958 requires reversal of any conviction in which an involuntary confession was allowed into evidence. But the state court said six of its seven justices had voted to consider whether the use of an involuntary confession in a Sacramento County murder case could be “harmless error” under the state Constitution. The seventh justice, Stanley Mosk, has for years been the court’s leading advocate of interpreting the state Constitution to grant criminal defendants stronger protections than the U.S. Constitution.


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