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Alcorta v. Texas

U.S.
Nov 12, 1957
355 U.S. 28 (1957)

Summary

holding that a habeas petitioner had been denied due process of law when a prosecutor allowed a witness to give the jury a “false impression” of his relationship with the petitioner's wife

Summary of this case from Phillips v. Ornoski

Opinion

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS.

No. 139.

Argued October 23, 1957. Decided November 12, 1957.

In a Texas state court, petitioner was convicted of murdering his wife and was sentenced to death. At his trial, he admitted the killing but claimed it occurred in a fit of passion when he discovered his wife, whom he had already suspected of marital infidelity, kissing another man late at night in a parked car. Had this claim been accepted by the jury, it could have found him guilty of "murder without malice" which, under a Texas statute, was punishable by a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment. The other man testified at the trial that his relationship with petitioner's wife was nothing more than a casual friendship and that he had simply driven her home from work a few times. In a subsequent habeas corpus proceeding, the other man confessed to having had sexual intercourse with petitioner's wife on several occasions and testified that he had informed the prosecutor of this before the trial and that the prosecutor had told him he should not volunteer any information about it. The prosecutor admitted that these statements were true. Petitions for writs of habeas corpus were denied both by the trial court and by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Held: Petitioner was denied due process of law; the judgment denying a writ of habeas corpus is reversed; and the cause is remanded. Pp. 28-32.

Reversed and remanded.

Fred A. Semaan and Raul Villarreal argued the cause, and Mr. Semaan filed a brief, for petitioner.

Roy R. Barrera and Hubert W. Green, Jr. argued the cause for respondent. With them on the brief was Will Wilson, Attorney General of Texas.


Petitioner, Alvaro Alcorta, was indicted for murder in a Texas state court for stabbing his wife to death. Vernon's Tex. Pen. Code, 1948, Art. 1256. He admitted the killing but claimed it occurred in a fit of passion when he discovered his wife, whom he had already suspected of marital infidelity, kissing one Castilleja late at night in a parked car. Petitioner relied on Texas statutes which treat killing under the influence of a "sudden passion arising from an adequate cause . . . as would commonly produce a degree of anger, rage, resentment, or terror in a person of ordinary temper sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool reflection" as murder without malice punishable by a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment. Vernon's Tex. Pen. Code, 1948, Arts. 1257a, 1257b, 1257c. The jury, however, found him guilty of murder with malice and, acting under broad statutory authority to determine the extent of punishment, sentenced him to death. The judgment and sentence were affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 165 Tex.Crim. ___, 294 S.W.2d 112.

Castilleja, the only eye witness to the killing, testified for the State at petitioner's trial. In response to inquiries by the prosecutor about his relationship with the petitioner's wife, Castilleja said that he had simply driven her home from work a couple of times, and in substance testified that his relationship with her had been nothing more than a casual friendship. He stated that he had given her a ride on the night she was killed and was parked in front of her home with his car lights out at two o'clock in the morning because of engine trouble. The prosecutor then asked what had transpired between Castilleja and petitioner's wife in the parked car:

"Q. Did you have a conversation with Herlinda?

"A. Yes; she opened the door. She was going to get off [ sic] and, then, she told me to tell my sister to come and pick her up in the morning so she could go to church.

"Q. To tell your sister, Delfina Cabrera, to come pick her up in the morning so she could go to church?

"A. Yes."

At the conclusion of Castilleja's testimony the following colloquy took place between him and the prosecutor:

"Q. Natividad [Castilleja], were you in love with Herlinda?

"A. No.

"Q. Was she in love with you?

"A. No.

"Q. Had you ever talked about love?

"A. No.

"Q. Had you ever had any dates with her other than to take her home?

"A. No. Well, just when I brought her from there.

"Q. Just when you brought her from work?

"A. Yes."

All this testimony was quite plainly inconsistent with petitioner's claim that he had come upon his wife kissing Castilleja in the parked car.

Some time after petitioner's conviction had been affirmed Castilleja issued a sworn statement in which he declared that he had given false testimony at the trial. Relying on this statement petitioner asked the trial court to issue a writ of habeas corpus. He contended that he had been denied a fair trial in violation of State and Federal Constitutions because Castilleja had testified falsely, with the knowledge of the prosecutor, that his relationship with petitioner's wife had been only "that of a friend and neighbor, and that he had had no `dates,' nor other relations with her, when in truth and in fact the witness had been her lover and paramour, and had had sexual intercourse with her on many occasions . . . ." Petitioner further alleged that he had no knowledge of this illicit intercourse at the time of his trial.

A hearing was held on the petition for habeas corpus. Castilleja was called as a witness. He confessed having sexual intercourse with petitioner's wife on five or six occasions within a relatively brief period before her death. He testified that he had informed the prosecutor of this before trial and the prosecutor had told him he should not volunteer any information about such intercourse but if specifically asked about it to answer truthfully. The prosecutor took the stand and admitted that these statements were true. He conceded that he had not told petitioner about Castilleja's illicit intercourse with his wife. He also admitted that he had not included this information in a written statement taken from Castilleja prior to the trial but instead had noted it in a separate record. At the conclusion of the hearing the trial judge denied the petition for habeas corpus. Petitioner then applied to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a writ of habeas corpus but that court, acting on the record made at the hearing before the trial court, also refused to issue the writ. We granted certiorari, 353 U.S. 972. Texas concedes that petitioner has exhausted all remedies available to him under state law.

Under the general principles laid down by this Court in Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103, and Pyle v. Kansas, 317 U.S. 213, petitioner was not accorded due process of law. It cannot seriously be disputed that Castilleja's testimony, taken as a whole, gave the jury the false impression that his relationship with petitioner's wife was nothing more than that of casual friendship. This testimony was elicited by the prosecutor who knew of the illicit intercourse between Castilleja and petitioner's wife. Undoubtedly Castilleja's testimony was seriously prejudicial to petitioner. It tended squarely to refute his claim that he had adequate cause for a surge of "sudden passion" in which he killed his wife. If Castilleja's relationship with petitioner's wife had been truthfully portrayed to the jury, it would have, apart from impeaching his credibility, tended to corroborate petitioner's contention that he had found his wife embracing Castilleja. If petitioner's defense had been accepted by the jury, as it might well have been if Castilleja had not been allowed to testify falsely, to the knowledge of the prosecutor, his offense would have been reduced to "murder without malice" precluding the death penalty now imposed upon him.

The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded to the Court of Criminal Appeals of the State of Texas for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.


Summaries of

Alcorta v. Texas

U.S.
Nov 12, 1957
355 U.S. 28 (1957)

holding that a habeas petitioner had been denied due process of law when a prosecutor allowed a witness to give the jury a “false impression” of his relationship with the petitioner's wife

Summary of this case from Phillips v. Ornoski

holding that a habeas petitioner had been denied due process of law when a prosecutor allowed a witness to give the jury a "false impression" of his relation- ship with the petitioner's wife

Summary of this case from Phillips v. Ornoski

holding that it violates due process for a prosecutor to intentionally mislead the defense and jury in a material way

Summary of this case from Jimenez v. State

holding that it violates due process for a prosecutor to intentionally mislead the defense and jury in a material way

Summary of this case from Jimenez v. State

holding Alcorta's due process rights violated when the State, although not soliciting false evidence, allowed it to go uncorrected when it appeared, and stating, “It cannot seriously be disputed that [the witness's] testimony, taken as a whole, gave the jury the false impression that his relationship with petitioner's wife was nothing more than that of casual friendship.”

Summary of this case from Robbins v. State

holding Alcorta's due process rights violated when the State, although not soliciting false evidence, allowed it to go uncorrected when it appeared, and stating, "It cannot seriously be disputed that [the witness's] testimony, taken as a whole, gave the jury the false impression that his relationship with petitioner's wife was nothing more than that of casual friendship."

Summary of this case from Ex Parte Robbins

determining that applicant's due process rights were violated by misleading testimony denying sexual relationship between deceased and witness that was pertinent to proof of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause

Summary of this case from Robbins v. State

granting habeas relief where false witness testimony that he had only a casual friendship with the defendant's wife undercut the defense's theory that he murdered his wife in the heat of passion after seeing her embrace the witness

Summary of this case from Zumot v. Borders

reversing conviction when a witness gave a sworn statement in which he declared that he had given false testimony at trial

Summary of this case from State v. Thomas

In Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28, 78 S.Ct. 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 9 (1957) (per curiam), the "only eye witness" to a murder gave perjured testimony that he was not having an affair with the victim, which was "seriously prejudicial" to the defendant’s contention that he had killed his wife only in "sudden passion," upon discovering the affair.

Summary of this case from United States v. Butler

considering whether "testimony, taken as a whole, gave the jury false impression"

Summary of this case from Panah v. Chappell

In Alcorta the prosecutor had told the witness not to be forthcoming and deliberately elicited a misleading statement; the defense and the jury never learned the truth, something Alcorta stressed. Read in context, the passage in Napue implies that a prosecutor must furnish the truth whether a falsehood had been elicited deliberately (in bad faith) or inadvertently.

Summary of this case from Long v. Pfister

involving the prosecutor's solicitation of knowingly false testimony from a witness

Summary of this case from Raleigh v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr.

In Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28, 78 S.Ct. 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 9 (1957), the Court was confronted with a prosecutor who on direct examination knowingly allowed a witness to create a false impression of his disputed relationship with the defendant's murdered wife.

Summary of this case from Com. of Northern Mariana Islands v. Bowie

In Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28, 78 S.Ct. 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 9 (1957), while the perjury was not claimed to have been procured, it was known to have existed when given at the trial.

Summary of this case from Burks v. Egeler

In Alcorta v. State of Texas, 355 U.S. 28, 78 S.Ct. 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 9 (1957), the district attorney advised a witness not to volunteer any information about a fact which the witness had lied about, and denied, on the stand (adultery with the defendant's wife).

Summary of this case from Marshall v. United States

In Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28, 78 S. Ct. 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 9, the petitioner had been tried and convicted for murder in the first degree and sentenced to death.

Summary of this case from Ashley v. State of Texas

In Alcorta, the Supreme Court determined that false evidence violated the defendant's Due Process rights where it "tended squarely to refute" the theory of his defense.

Summary of this case from Zumot v. Borders

In Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28, 30-32 (1957), the prosecutor advised a key witness to avoid admitting that he was having an affair with the murdered wife of the defendant.

Summary of this case from Jordan v. Epps

In Alcorta, the United States Supreme Court held that the defendant had a due process right to be free from the knowing use of perjured testimony.

Summary of this case from Harrison v. Culliver

In Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28 (1957), Miller v. Pate, 386 U.S. 1 (1966), and Brown v. Borg, 951 F.2d 1011 (9th Cir. 1991), the conviction in each case was reversed because the prosecution knowingly omitted information or offered information which it knew to be false. Alcorta, 355 U.S. at 30; Miller, 386 U.S. at 6-7; Borg, 951 F.2d at 1015.

Summary of this case from Diggs v. Pliler

In Alcorta v. Texas, 355 U.S. 28, 30-31 (1957) (per curiam), the Court found a due process violation where the prosecutor knew that the key witness against a murder defendant had been sexually involved with the defendant's wife but told the witness not to volunteer such information during his testimony.

Summary of this case from Cook v. Schriro

In Alcorta v. State of Texas, 355 U.S. 28 (1957), the government's key witness at trial later admitted that he had given less than truthful testimony.

Summary of this case from Wallace v. Price

dealing with prosecutorial elicitation of known false testimony

Summary of this case from Abu-Jamal v. Horn

knowing use of false testimony

Summary of this case from Andrews v. Barnes
Case details for

Alcorta v. Texas

Case Details

Full title:ALCORTA v . TEXAS

Court:U.S.

Date published: Nov 12, 1957

Citations

355 U.S. 28 (1957)
78 S. Ct. 103

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