Voluntariness Hearing Definition
Voluntariness Hearings in Non-Jury Trials:
When a defendant alleges facts demonstrating that his or her confession was involuntary, the defendant has a constitutional right to a "reliable and clear-cut determination of the voluntariness of the confession . . . ." Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 391, 84 S. Ct. 1774, 12 L. Ed. 2d 908 (1964).
Voluntariness hearings are "designed to safeguard the right of an individual, entirely apart from his guilt or innocence, not to be compelled to condemn himself by his own utterances." Lego v. Twomey, 404 U.S. 477, 485, 92 S. Ct. 619, 30 L. Ed. 2d 618 (1972).
Voluntariness hearings ensure that both the underlying factual issues and the voluntariness of the defendant's confession are fairly determined. Jackson, 378 U.S. at 377. If the trial judge finds the confession involuntary, it may be suppressed. See Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 541, 81 S. Ct. 735, 5 L. Ed. 2d 760 (1961).
Although the United States Supreme Court stated that jurors are presumed unable to determine the issue of voluntariness objectively, the Court never stated that judges are unable to objectively determine the voluntariness of a confession.
Rather, the Jackson Court specifically noted that its holding did not question procedures whereby "the judge hears the confession evidence himself, resolves evidentiary conflicts, and gives his own answer to the coercion issue . . . ." Id. at 378 n.8. In fact, federal and state courts generally presume that trial judges' conclusions are "based only on relevant and admissible evidence." Allen v. McCotter, 804 F.2d 1362, 1364 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing United States v. Dillon, 436 F.2d 1093, 1095 (5th Cir. 1971)); see also State v. Gonzales, 111 Ariz. 38, 41, 523 P.2d 66 (1974).
We extend this presumption to trial judges' rulings in the Commonwealth, and find it unnecessary for a trial judge in a non-jury trial to conduct a separate hearing on voluntariness. United States ex rel. Placek v. Illinois, 546 F.2d 1298, 1304-05 (7th Cir. 1976);
see also Allen, 804 F.2d at 1363-64 (holding that defendant in bench trial was not entitled to a separate suppression hearing regarding the voluntariness of his confession); United States v. Martinez, 555 F.2d 1269, 1272 (holding that there is "no need for the [trial] court to conduct a separate voluntariness hearing apart from the bench trial").
We, therefore, presume that a trial judge, sitting as fact finder, can put aside the irrelevant considerations of a confession's truthfulness when considering the confession's voluntariness. In so doing, we rely on the Seventh Circuit's rationale, which explained that Jackson's separate hearing requirement:
was premised largely on the concern that lay jurors were unable to separate considerations going solely to the voluntariness of a confession from matters affecting its reliability as proof of the defendant's guilt or innocence.
However, a trial judge, unlike a juror, is trained by learning and experience to segregate evidence bearing on a confession's voluntariness from evidence bearing on its reliability and the defendant's culpability. Placek, 546 F.2d at 1304.