Bruton on Balance: Standardizing Redacted Codefendant Confessions Through Federal Rule of Evidence 403
In joint criminal trials, prosecutors are constitutionally barred from introducing the confession of a non-testifying defendant (a “declarant-defendant”) that inculpates other codefendants. In Bruton v. United States, the Supreme Court held that the wholesale introduction of the declarant-defendant’s confession would violate the non-confessing codefendant’s Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause right to cross-examine all witnesses presented against him. However, the Supreme Court in its subsequent Bruton doctrine jurisprudence has held that prosecutors can introduce certain redacted codefendant confessions, even if those confessions sometimes indirectly reference non-confessing codefendants. Lower courts, prosecutors, and defendants alike have thus been left to grapple with exactly how much redaction is necessary to pass constitutional muster, as no coherent test currently exists to determine whether redacted confessions are admissible. This Note argues courts can reconcile these issues by employing a variation of Federal Rule of Evidence 403, known as a Reverse Rule 403 analysis, to determine whether redacted confessions are admissible at trial. To survive a Reverse Rule 403 balancing test, the probative value of the redacted confession must substantially outweigh any unfair prejudice to the non-confessing codefendant. This balancing test will standardize how courts address Bruton redactions while keeping with the Supreme Court’s policies underlying Bruton and its subsequent related decisions.
J.D. Candidate, 2016, Vanderbilt University Law School; B.A., 2009, University of Georgia. I would like to thank my colleagues on the Vanderbilt Law Review for their helpful comments and careful editing that so greatly improved this piece, as well as Professor Edward Cheng for teaching me Evidence and for the conversation that led me to pursue this topic. Additional thanks to my husband, Ben, for always making the coffee. This Note is dedicated to my parents, the two finest lawyers who ever lived.