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United States: Supreme Court Reaffirms Right to Prompt Appearance Before Magistrate Following Arrest

(Apr. 10, 2009) On April 6, 2009, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed a longstanding criminal procedural doctrine that a confession made during an unreasonable period of detention before the defendant is presented before a magistrate is inadmissible in federal court.

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure require the police to take a person they have arrested before a magistrate judge “without unnecessary delay.” Longstanding Supreme Court doctrine establishes that confessions made during periods of detention that violate this prompt presentment requirement are inadmissible. A federal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3501(a), provides that a confession that is voluntary will be admissible, while section 3501(c) provides that a confession “shall not be inadmissible solely because of delay in bringing such person before a magistrate judge … if such confession is found by the trial judge to have been made voluntarily and … within six hours [of arrest].”

Johnnie Corley was arrested by federal officers at 8 a.m., was detained until 11:45 a.m. when he was taken to a hospital for a minor injury, and was taken at 3:30 p.m. from the hospital to an FBI office, rather than before a magistrate. He began an oral confession at 5:27 p.m., about 9½ hours after his arrest. At trial, Corley moved for suppression of the confession, which the trial court denied. The intermediate appellate court affirmed, and the case was accepted by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court first ruled that the fact that the confession was voluntary, even if delayed, does not make it admissible, because that would render superfluous section 3501(c)'s language rendering voluntary confessions admissible if made within six hours of arrest. The Court cited legislative history supporting this reading. The Court emphasized that the prompt presentment rule is not a mere “administrative nicety,” but a key requirement whereby the magistrate informs the accused of the charges against him, his right to silence, his right to counsel, the availability of bail, and other protections against governmental overreaching. (Corley v. United States, No. 07-10441 (Apr. 6, 2009), available at