Davis v. United States - 512 U.S. 452 (1994)


OCTOBER TERM, 1993

Syllabus

DAVIS v. UNITED STATES

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF MILITARY APPEALS

No. 92-1949. Argued March 29, 1994-Decided June 24, 1994

Petitioner, a member of the United States Navy, initially waived his rights to remain silent and to counsel when he was interviewed by Naval Investigative Service agents in connection with the murder of a sailor. About an hour and a half into the interview, he said, "Maybe I should talk to a lawyer." However, when the agents inquired if he was asking for a lawyer, he replied that he was not. They took a short break, he was reminded of his rights, and the interview continued for another hour, until he asked to have a lawyer present before saying anything more. A military judge denied his motion to suppress statements made at the interview, holding that his mention of a lawyer during the interrogation was not a request for counsel. He was convicted of murder, and, ultimately, the Court of Military Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Mter a knowing and voluntary waiver of rights under Miranda v.

Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, law enforcement officers may continue questioning until and unless a suspect clearly requests an attorney. A suspect is entitled to the assistance of counsel during custodial interrogation even though the Constitution does not provide for such assistance. Id., at 469-473. If the suspect invokes that right at any time, the police must immediately cease questioning him until an attorney is present. Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U. S. 477, 484-485. The Edwards rule serves the prophylactic purpose of preventing officers from badgering a suspect into waiving his previously asserted Miranda rights, and its applicability requires courts to determine whether the accused actually invoked his right to counsel. This is an objective inquiry, requiring some statement that can reasonably be construed to be an expression of a desire for an attorney's assistance. However, if a reference is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel, Edwards does not require that officers stop questioning the suspect. Extending Edwards to create such a requirement would transform the Miranda safeguards into wholly irrational obstacles to legitimate investigative activity by needlessly preventing the police from questioning a suspect in the absence of an attorney, even if the


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suspect does not wish to have one present. The Edwards rule provides a bright line that can be applied by officers in the real world ofinvestigation and interrogation without unduly hampering the gathering of information. This clarity and ease of application would be lost if officers were required to cease questioning based on an ambiguous or equivocal reference to an attorney, since they would be forced to make difficult judgment calls about what the suspect wants, with the threat of suppression if they guess wrong. While it will often be good police practice for officers to clarify whether a suspect making an ambiguous statement really wants an attorney, they are not required to ask clarifying questions. Pp. 456-462.

2. There is no reason to disturb the conclusion of the courts below that petitioner's remark-"Maybe I should talk to a lawyer"-was not a request for counsel. P. 462.

36 M. J. 337, affirmed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 462. SOUTER, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined, post, p. 466.

David S. Jonas argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Philip L. Sundel, Daniel S. Jonas, and David Rudovsky.

Richard H. Seamon argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Harris, Deputy Solicitor General Bryson, Joel M. Gershowitz, Theodore G. Hess, and Brett D. Barkey. *

* Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W Schmidt, James P. Manak, Richard M. Weintraub, William C. O'Malley, and Bernard J. Farber filed a brief for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by Janet E. Ainsworth; and for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. by Paul G. Cassell, Daniel J. Popeo, and Paul D. Kamenar.


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Full Text of Opinion

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