Expectation From Jurors to Ignore Statements
In Bruton v. United States (1968) 391 U.S 123, the United States Supreme Court held that a defendant is denied his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation when the confession of his nontestifying codefendant that names and incriminates him is introduced at their joint trial, even where the jury is instructed to consider the confession only against the codefendant. (Bruton, supra, 391 U.S. at pp. 124-126, 135-136.)
The Supreme Court reasoned that, even when so instructed, jurors cannot be expected to ignore the statements of one defendant that are "powerfully incriminating" as to another defendant. (Id. at pp. 135-136.)
However, in Richardson v. Marsh (1987) 481 U.S. 200, the Supreme Court held that "the Confrontation Clause is not violated by the admission of a nontestifying codefendant's confession with a proper limiting instruction when, as here, the confession is redacted to eliminate not only the defendant's name, but any reference to his or her existence." (Id. at p. 211.)
The Supreme Court reasoned that Bruton was a "narrow exception" to the general rule that a jury may be expected to obey a limiting instruction, because a jury might not be able to disregard a "'powerfully incriminating'" confession by a codefendant that implicates the defendant.
In contrast, a codefendant's confession that is not incriminating on its face, but becomes so "only when linked with evidence introduced later at trial," is more likely to be disregarded by a properly instructed jury. (Richardson, supra, at p. 208.)
Thus, as the California Supreme Court explained, under Richardson "a defendant's rights under the confrontation clause are not violated by the admission in evidence of a codefendant's confession that has been redacted 'to eliminate not only the defendant's name, but any reference to his or her existence,' even though the confession may incriminate the defendant when considered in conjunction with other evidence properly admitted against the defendant. " (People v. Fletcher, supra, 13 Cal.4th at p. 456, italics added.)
In sum, in Bruton, the Supreme Court held that jurors cannot be expected to ignore the powerfully incriminating statements of one defendant implicating another, even if they are instructed to do so, and in such a case a violation of the right of confrontation occurs. (Bruton, supra, 391 U.S. at pp. 135-136.) However, in Richardson, the court limited that holding, declaring that when a codefendant's statement has been redacted to eliminate any reference to the existence of another defendant, the jury can be expected to obey an admonition that the statement is admissible only as to the declarant. In such a case, there is no violation of the right of confrontation. (Richardson, supra, 481 U.S. at pp. 208, 211.)