Sunday, December 22, 2013

Brooks v. Tennessee case brief

Brooks v. Tennessee case brief summary
406 U.S. 605 (1972)

Following the trial court's denial of his motion for a new trial, defendant appealed his conviction to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which overruled his assignments of error, including his claim that Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-2403 violated the state and federal Constitutions. The Supreme Court of Tennessee denied review, and the court granted certiorari.


  • The court granted certiorari to consider whether Tenn. Code Ann. §40-2403 violated the federal Constitution by requiring a defendant desiring to testify to take the stand prior to any other defense testimony. 
  • The court determined that a defendant may not know at the close of the state's case whether his own testimony would be necessary or even helpful to his cause. 
  • Rather than risk the dangers of taking the stand, a defendant might prefer to remain silent at that point, putting off his testimony until its value could be realistically assessed. 
  • Yet, under the Tennessee rule, a defendant could not make that choice in the unfettered exercise of his own will. 
  • The court concluded that § 40-2403 cast a heavy burden on a defendant's otherwise unconditional right not to take the stand. 
  • The state's interest in preventing testimonial influence was not sufficient to override the defendant's right to remain silent at trial. 
  • Pressuring the defendant to take the stand, by foreclosing later testimony if he refused, was not a constitutionally permissible means of ensuring a defendant's honesty. 
  • The court also regarded the Tennessee rule as an infringement on a defendant's right of due process.

The judgment affirming the denial of petitioner's motion for a new trial was reversed and remanded. Petitioner was deprived of his constitutional rights when the trial court excluded him from the stand for failing to testify first, and petitioner was entitled to a new trial.

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