In Corley v. United Statesi  the United States Supreme Court considered how a delay in bringing a suspect before a court would impact a confession obtained during the delay. At the outset it must be noted that the Court is reviewing this case in terms of the Federal Statute covering the admissibility of Confessions and the duty of officers to present an arrestee to a magistrate without unnecessary delay.ii  The Court in reviewing the case was also forced to consider the continued application of the McNabb/Mallory rule of prior cases which interpreted the federal rules of criminal procedure.iii All officers should recognize that most states have provisions requiring that arrestees be brought before the court without unnecessary delay.

Under the common law, officers who made arrests were required to bring the arrestee before a court without undue delay.  Many states and the federal government have codified or included this requirement into statutory law.iv  Generally, it does not matter whether the arrest is with or without a warrant, the presentment without “unnecessary delay is required.”v The Supreme Court noted: “This ‘presentment’ requirement tended to prevent secret detention and served to inform a suspect of the charges against him, and it was the law in nearly every American State and the National Government.”

The Court outlined the facts in Corley as follows:

“Johnnie Corley was suspected of robbing a bank in Norristown, Pennsylvania. After federal agents learned that Corley was subject to arrest on an unrelated local matter, some federal and state officers went together to execute the state warrant on September 17, 2003, and found him just as he was pulling out of a driveway in his car. Corley nearly ran over one officer, then jumped out of the car, pushed the officer down, and ran. The agents gave chase and caught and arrested him for assaulting a federal officer. The arrest occurred about 8 a.m.  FBI agents first kept Corley at a local police station while they questioned residents near the place he was captured. Around 11:45 a.m. they took him to a Philadelphia hospital to treat a minor cut on his hand that he got during the chase. At 3:30 p.m. the agents took him from the hospital to the Philadelphia FBI office and told him that he was a suspect in the Norristown bank robbery. Though the office was in the same building as the chambers of the nearest magistrate judges, the agents did not bring Corley before a magistrate, but questioned him instead, in hopes of getting a confession.

The agents’ repeated arguments sold Corley on the benefits of cooperating with the Government, and he signed a form waiving his Miranda rights. At 5:27 p.m., some 9.5 hours after his arrest, Corley began an oral confession that he robbed the bank, and spoke on in this vein until about 6:30, when agents asked him to put it all in writing. Corley said he was tired and wanted a break, so the agents decided to hold him overnight and take the written statement the next morning. At 10:30 a.m. on September 18 they began the interrogation again, which ended when Corley signed a written confession. He was finally presented to a magistrate at 1:30 p.m. that day, 29.5 hours after his arrest.”

Corley was charged with bank robbery.  He sought to have his confession suppressed based upon the federal statute requiring “presentment” without unnecessary delay as well as prior Supreme Court holdings on this issue.  The trial court refused to suppress the confession, in part by subtracting the time that Corley was at the hospital being treated thus holding that his confession was within six hours, therefore there was no unreasonable delay  and no violation of  18 U.S.C. § 3501 in bringing him before a court.

In describing the importance of a prompt presentment of the arrestee to a judge/ magistrate the Court asserted: “Today presentment is the point at which the judge is required to take several key steps to foreclose Government overreaching: informing the defendant of the charges against him, his right to remain silent, his right to counsel, the availability of bail, and any right to a preliminary hearing; giving the defendant a chance to consult with counsel; and deciding between detention or release.”

The Court reasoned: “In a world without McNabb-Mallory, federal agents would be free to question suspects for extended periods before bringing them out in the open, and we have always known what custodial secrecy leads to. No one with any smattering of the history of 20th-century dictatorships needs a lecture on the subject, and we understand the need even within our own system to take care against going too far. “[C]ustodial  police interrogation, by its very nature, isolates and pressures the individual,” and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed. [cites omitted]

The Court held:

We hold that [18 U.S.C.] §3501 modified McNabb-Mallory without supplanting it. Under the rule as revised by §3501(c), a district court with a suppression claim must find whether the defendant confessed within six hours of arrest (unless a longer delay was ‘reasonable considering the means of transportation and the distance to be traveled to the nearest available [magistrate]’). If the confession came within that period, it is admissible, subject to the other Rules of Evidence, so long as it was ‘made voluntarily and . . . the weight to be given [it] is left to the jury.’If the confession occurred before presentment and beyond six hours, however, the court must decide whether delaying that long was unreasonable or unnecessary under the McNabb-Mallory cases, and if it was, the confession is to be suppressed. In this case, the Third Circuit did not apply this rule and in consequence never conclusively determined whether Corley’s oral confession ‘should be treated as having been made within six hours of arrest,’ as the District Court held. 500 F. 3d, at 220, n. 7. Nor did the Circuit consider the justifiability of any delay beyond six hours if the oral confession should be treated as given outside the six-hour window; and it did not make this enquiry with respect to Corley’s written confession. We therefore vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for consideration of those issues in the first instance, consistent with this opinion.

Bottom Line:

An unreasonable delay in presenting an arrestee before the court for arraignment may impact the admissibility of a confession particularly where the delay is not due to transportation and distance to court issues.

Investigators would be well advised in all cases to record and maintain a strict time-line covering all events from arrest to arraignment including such items as transportation time, hospital treatment etc. in order to establish the timeliness of presenting the subject at court.

In a federal case, a delay beyond six hours will require close scrutiny by the court to determine if there was any justification for the delay.  If the delay was unnecessary or unreasonable, the confession will be suppressed.


i Corley v. United States, 556 U.S. ___; slip opinion 07-10441 (2009).

ii 18 U.S.C. §3501 : § 3501.  Admissibility of confessions [Caution: In Dickerson v United States (2000, US) 530 U.S. 428, 147 L Ed 2d 405, 120 S Ct 2326, 2000 US LEXIS 4305, 68 USLW 4566, the Supreme Court held that Congress did not have constitutional authority to supersede Miranda v. Arizona (1966, US) 384 US 436, 16 L Ed 2d 694, 86 S Ct 1602, 1966 US LEXIS 2817, by enactment of this section.]

(a) In any criminal prosecution brought by the United States or by the District of Columbia, a confession, as defined in subsection (e) hereof, shall be admissible in evidence if it is voluntarily given. Before such confession is received in evidence, the trial judge shall, out of the presence of the jury, determine any issue as to voluntariness. If the trial judge determines that the confession was voluntarily made it shall be admitted in evidence and the trial judge shall permit the jury to hear relevant evidence on the issue of voluntariness and shall instruct the jury to give such weight to the confession as the jury feels it deserves under all the circumstances.
(b) The trial judge in determining the issue of voluntariness shall take into consideration all the circumstances surrounding the giving of the confession, including (1) the time elapsing between arrest and arraignment of the defendant making the confession, if it was made after arrest and before arraignment, (2) whether such defendant knew the nature of the offense with which he was charged or of which he was suspected at the time of making the confession, (3) whether or not such defendant was advised or knew that he was not required to make any statement and that any such statement could be used against him, (4) whether or not such defendant had been advised prior to questioning of his right to the assistance of counsel; and (5) whether or not such defendant was without the assistance of counsel when questioned and when giving such confession. The presence or absence of any of the above-mentioned factors to be taken into consideration by the judge need not be conclusive on the issue of voluntariness of the confession.
(c) In any criminal prosecution by the United States or by the District of Columbia, a confession made or given by a person who is a defendant therein, while such person was under arrest or other detention in the custody of any law-enforcement officer or law-enforcement agency, shall not be inadmissible solely because of delay in bringing such person before a magistrate [magistrate judge] or other officer empowered to commit persons charged with offenses against the laws of the United States or of the District of Columbia if such confession is found by the trial judge to have been made voluntarily and if the weight to be given the confession is left to the jury and if such confession was made or given by such person within six hours immediately following his arrest or other detention: Provided, That the time limitation contained in this subsection shall not apply in any case in which the delay in bringing such person before such magistrate or other officer beyond such six-hour period is found by the trial judge to be reasonable considering the means of transportation and the distance to be traveled to the nearest available such magistrate or other officer.
(d) Nothing contained in this section shall bar the admission in evidence of any confession made or given voluntarily by any person to any other person without interrogation by anyone, or at any time at which the person who made or gave such confession was not under arrest or other detention.
(e) As used in this section, the term “confession” means any confession of guilt of any criminal offense or any self-incriminating statement made or given orally or in writing.

iii McNabb v. United States, 318 U. S. 332, and Mallory v. United States, 354 U. S. 449, “generally rende[r] inadmissible confessions made during periods of detention that violat[e] the prompt presentment requirement of [Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure] 5(a).”

iv See e.g.: Alaska Statute § 12.25.150  “A person arrested shall be taken before a judge or magistrate without unnecessary delay, and in any event within 24 hours after arrest, including Sundays and holidays. This requirement applies to municipal police officers to the same extent as it does to state troopers.”

v See e.g. Arizona Revised Statutes §13-3897  When the arrest by virtue of a warrant occurs in the county where the alleged offense was committed and where the warrant was issued, the officer making the arrest shall without unnecessary delay take the person arrested before the magistrate who issued the warrant or, if that magistrate is absent or unable to act, before the nearest or most accessible magistrate in the same county.

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