Burton Error Law and Legal Definition

Burton error refers to the violation of a criminal defendant's constitutional right of confrontation by admitting into evidence a non testifying codefendant's confession that implicates both of them, where the statement is not admissible against the defendant under any exception to the hearsay rule. This error is not cured by giving a limiting instruction to the jury to consider the confession only against the one who made it, because of the high risk that the jury will disregard the instruction. The name originated from the case Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 132 (U.S. 1968) where in a joint trial of the defendant and his alleged accomplice, the defendant was convicted on the basis of the accomplice's oral confession, which stated that the accomplice and defendant had committed the robbery. The court of appeals affirmed defendant's conviction because the trial judge instructed the jury that although the accomplice's confession was competent evidence against the accomplice, it was inadmissible hearsay against defendant and had to be disregarded in determining defendant's guilt or innocence. The Supreme Court reversed the decision, holding that despite the limiting instruction, the introduction of the accomplice's out of court confession at defendant's trial violated defendant's Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine witnesses against him.