Maine v. Moulton
Annotate this Case
474 U.S. 159 (1985)
U.S. Supreme Court
Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159 (1985)
Maine v. Moulton
Argued October 8, 1985
Decided December 10, 1985
474 U.S. 159
Respondent, represented by retained counsel, pleaded not guilty in a Maine Superior Court to charges of theft by receiving of automotive vehicles and parts. Respondent's codefendant Colson informed the police that he had received anonymous threatening telephone calls regarding the pending charges, and indicated that he wished to talk to the police about the charges. Before meeting with the police, Colson met with respondent to plan for the upcoming trial, and, according to Colson, respondent suggested the possibility of killing a State's witness. Thereafter, Colson and his lawyer met with police officers, and Colson confessed to his participation with respondent in committing the crimes for which they had been indicted and agreed to testify against respondent and cooperate in the prosecution of respondent on the pending charges if no further charges were brought against Colson. Colson also consented to have a recording device placed on his telephone, and agreed to record any anonymous threats or any calls from respondent. Having learned from recorded telephone calls that Colson and respondent were going to meet to plan defense strategy for the upcoming trial, the police obtained Colson's consent to be equipped with a body wire transmitter to record the meeting. Although Colson was instructed not to attempt to question respondent at the meeting, his remarks in fact caused respondent to make incriminating statements. The trial court denied respondent's pretrial motion to suppress the recorded statements he made to Colson as having been obtained in violation of respondent's right to the assistance of counsel under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments on the ground that the recordings were made for other reasons. Some of respondent's recorded incriminating statements made at the meeting with Colson were admitted in evidence, and respondent was convicted of some of the charges. The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine reversed and remanded for a new trial.
Held: Respondent's Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel was violated by the admission at trial of incriminating statements made by him to Colson after indictment and at the meeting of the two to plan defense strategy for the upcoming trial. Pp. 474 U. S. 168-180.
(a) The assistance of counsel is necessary to safeguard the other procedural safeguards provided to the accused by the criminal justice process. Accordingly, the right to the assistance of counsel is not limited to
participation in a trial; to deprive a person of counsel during the period prior to trial may be more damaging than denial of counsel during the trial itself. Whatever else it may mean, the right to counsel means at least that a person is entitled to the help of a lawyer at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against him. Pp. 474 U. S. 168-170.
(b) Once the right to counsel has attached and been asserted, the State must honor it. At the very least, the prosecutor and police have an affirmative obligation not to act in a manner that circumvents and thereby dilutes the protection afforded by the right to counsel. Spano v. New York, 360 U. S. 315; Massiah v. United States, 377 U. S. 201; United States v. Henry, 447 U. S. 264. 474 U. S. 170-174.
(c) The State misreads Massiah, supra, and Henry, supra, in contending that the decisive fact in those cases was that the police set up the confrontation between the accused and a police agent at which incriminating statements were elicited, and that, thus, respondent's Sixth Amendment rights were not violated here because, he rather than Colson, initiated the recorded conversations. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused, at least after the initiation of formal charges, the right to rely on counsel as a "medium" between him and the State. Knowing exploitation by the State of an opportunity to confront the accused without counsel being present is as much a breach of the State's obligation not to circumvent the right to the assistance of counsel as is the intentional creation of such an opportunity. Pp. 474 U. S. 174-176.
(d) In this case, the State clearly violated respondent's Sixth Amendment right when it arranged to record conversations between respondent and its undercover informant, Colson. When the police requested that Colson wear a body wire transmitter to the meeting with respondent, the police knew that respondent would make statements that he had a constitutional right not to make to their agent prior to consulting with counsel. By concealing the fact that Colson was an agent of the State, the police denied respondent the opportunity to consult with counsel, and thus denied him the assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 474 U. S. 176-177.
(e) There is no merit to the argument that the incriminating statements obtained by the police should not be suppressed because the police had other, legitimate reasons for listening to respondent's conversations with Colson, namely, to investigate respondent's alleged plan to kill the State's witness and to insure Colson's safety. This same argument was rejected in Massiah, supra, where the Court held that to allow the admission of evidence obtained from the accused in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights whenever the police assert the need to investigate other crimes to justify their surveillance invites abuse by law enforcement personnel in the form of fabricated investigations and risks the
evisceration of the Sixth Amendment right. Evidence obtained that is relevant to crimes as to which the Sixth Amendment right has not yet attached may be admissible at a trial on those charges. Pp. 474 U. S. 178-180.
481 A.2d 155, affirmed.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL,BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 181.