Nix v. Williams
Annotate this Case
467 U.S. 431 (1984)
U.S. Supreme Court
Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984)
Nix v. Williams
Argued January 18, 1984
Decided June 11, 1984
467 U.S. 431
Following the disappearance of a 10-year-old girl in Des Moines, Iowa, respondent was arrested and arraigned in Davenport, Iowa. The police informed respondent's counsel that they would drive respondent back to Des Moines without questioning him, but during the trip one of the officers began a conversation with respondent that ultimately resulted in his making incriminating statements and directing the officers to the child's body. A systematic search of the area that was being conducted with the aid of 200 volunteers, and that had been initiated before respondent made the incriminating statements, was terminated when respondent guided police to the body. Before trial in an Iowa state court for first-degree murder, the court denied respondent's motion to suppress evidence of the body and all related evidence, including the body's condition as shown by an autopsy, respondent having contended that such evidence was the fruit of his illegally obtained statements made during the automobile ride. Respondent was convicted, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, but later federal court habeas corpus proceedings ultimately resulted in this Court's holding that the police had obtained respondent's incriminating statements through interrogation in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Brewer v. Williams, 430 U. S. 387. However, it was noted that, even though the statements could not be admitted at a second trial, evidence of the body's location and condition might be admissible on the theory that the body would have been discovered even if the incriminating statements had not been elicited from respondent. Id. at 430 U. S. 407, n. 12. At respondent's second state court trial, his incriminating statements were not offered in evidence, nor did the prosecution seek to show that respondent had directed the police to the child's body. However, evidence concerning the body's location and condition was admitted, the court having concluded that the State had proved that, if the search had continued, the body would have been discovered within a short time in essentially the same condition as it was actually found. Respondent was again convicted of first-degree murder, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. In subsequent habeas corpus proceedings, the Federal District Court, denying relief, also concluded that the body inevitably would have been found. However, the
Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, even assuming that there is an inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule -- the State had not met the exception's requirement that it be proved that the police did not act in bad faith.
Held: The evidence pertaining to the discovery and condition of the victim's body was properly admitted at respondent's second trial on the ground that it would ultimately or inevitably have been discovered even if no violation of any constitutional provision had taken place. Pp. 467 U. S. 440-450.
(a) The core rationale for extending the exclusionary rule to evidence that is the fruit of unlawful police conduct is that such course is needed to deter police from violations of constitutional and statutory protections notwithstanding the high social cost of letting obviously guilty persons go unpunished. On this rationale, the prosecution is not to be put in a better position than it would have been in if no illegality had transpired. By contrast, the independent source doctrine -- allowing admission of evidence that has been discovered by means wholly independent of any constitutional violation -- rests on the rationale that society's interest in deterring unlawful police conduct and the public interest in having juries receive all probative evidence of a crime are properly balanced by putting the police in the same, not a worse, position that they would have been in if no police error or misconduct had occurred. Although the independent source doctrine does not apply here, its rationale is wholly consistent with, and justifies adoption of, the ultimate or inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule. If the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the information ultimately or inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means -- here the volunteers' search -- then the deterrence rationale has so little basis that the evidence should be received. Pp. 467 U. S. 441-444.
(b) Under the inevitable discovery exception, the prosecution is not required to prove the absence of bad faith, since such a requirement would result in withholding from juries relevant and undoubted truth that would have been available to police absent any unlawful police activity. This would put the police in a worse position than they would have been in if no unlawful conduct had transpired, and would fail to take into account the enormous societal cost of excluding truth in the search for truth in the administration of justice. Significant disincentives to obtaining evidence illegally -- including the possibility of departmental discipline and civil liability -- lessen the likelihood that the ultimate or inevitable discovery exception will promote police misconduct. Pp. 467 U. S. 445-446.
(c) There is no merit to respondent's contention that, because he did not waive his right to the assistance of counsel, and because the Sixth Amendment exclusionary rule is designed to protect the right to a fair
trial, competing values may not be balanced in deciding whether the challenged evidence was properly admitted. Exclusion of physical evidence that would inevitably have been discovered adds nothing to either the integrity or fairness of a criminal trial. Nor would suppression ensure fairness on the theory that it tends to safeguard the adversary system of justice. Pp. 467 U. S. 446-448.
(d) The record here supports the finding that the search party ultimately or inevitably would have discovered the victim's body. The evidence clearly shows that the searchers were approaching the actual location of the body, that the search would have been resumed had respondent not led the police to the body, and that the body inevitably would have been found. Pp. 467 U. S. 448-450.
700 F.2d 1164, reversed and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 467 U. S. 450. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 467 U. S. 451. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 467 U. S. 458.