(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a defendant’s murder confession to a jailhouse informant, though it “probably” violated the defendant’s right to counsel, was admissible for impeachment purposes.
On a 7-2 vote, the justices reversed the Kansas Supreme Court’s determination that confessions obtained in violation of the Sixth Amendment were inadmissible for any reason, including impeachment.
Prosecutors called the informant to testify after Donnie Ray Ventris took the stand and blamed the 2004 robbery-murder on his girlfriend, Rhonda Theel. According to the state, Ventris had confessed to the informant earlier that he killed and robbed Ernest Hicks.
The state acknowledged that Ventris’ right to counsel had likely been violated, but argued that the informant’s testimony was admissible for impeachment purposes.
The trial court agreed and allowed the informant’s testimony. The jury acquitted Ventris of felony murder and misdemeanor theft, but found him guilty of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery.
The state high court reversed his conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned that decision and sided with the trial court.
The justices agreed with Ventris that a constitutional violation had occurred when he was surreptitiously interrogated without counsel, but disagreed with the scope of the remedy.
Justice Scalia said interests protected by excluding tainted evidence are outweighed by the need to prevent perjury and uphold the trial’s integrity.
“We have held in every other context that tainted evidence – evidence whose very introduction does not constitute the constitutional violation, but whose obtaining was constitutionally invalid – is admissible for impeachment,” Scalia wrote.
In a dissent joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Stevens said “the prosecution should not be allowed to exploit its pretrial constitutional violation during the trial itself.”