Moran v. Burbine
Annotate this Case
475 U.S. 412 (1986)
U.S. Supreme Court
Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412 (1986)
Moran v. Burbine
Argued November 13, 1985
Decided March 10, 1986
475 U.S. 412
After respondent was arrested by the Cranston, Rhode Island, police in connection with a breaking and entering, the police obtained evidence suggesting that he might be responsible for the murder of a woman in Providence earlier that year. An officer telephoned the Providence police at approximately 6 p.m., and an hour later Providence police officers arrived at the Cranston headquarters to question respondent about the murder. That same evening, unknown to respondent, his sister, who was unaware that respondent was then under suspicion for murder, telephoned the Public Defender's Office to obtain legal assistance for her brother on the burglary charge. At 8:15 p.m., an Assistant Public Defender telephoned the Cranston detective division, stated that she would act as respondent's counsel if the police intended to question him, and was informed that he would not be questioned further until the next day. The attorney was not informed that the Providence police were there or that respondent was a murder suspect. Less than an hour later, the Providence police began a series of interviews with respondent, giving him warnings pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, before each session and obtaining three signed waivers from him prior to eliciting three signed statements admitting to the murder. At all relevant times, respondent was unaware of his sister's efforts to retain counsel and of the attorney's telephone call, but at no time did he request an attorney. The state trial court denied his pretrial motion to suppress the statements, finding that he had validly waived his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to counsel. Respondent was convicted of first-degree murder, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting the contention that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments required suppression of the statements. Respondent then unsuccessfully sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the police conduct in failing to inform respondent as to the attorney's call had fatally tainted his waivers of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and right to counsel.
1. The Court of Appeals erred in construing the Fifth Amendment to require the exclusion of respondent's confessions. The record supports the state court findings that the Providence police followed Miranda procedures with precision in obtaining respondent's written waivers of his Fifth Amendment rights prior to eliciting the confessions. Pp. 475 U. S. 420-428.
(a) The police's failure to inform respondent of the attorney's telephone call did not deprive him of information essential to his ability to knowingly waive his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent and to the presence of counsel. Events occurring outside of a suspect's presence and entirely unknown to him can have no bearing on the capacity to comprehend and knowingly relinquish a constitutional right. Once it is demonstrated that a suspect's decision not to rely on his rights was uncoerced, that he at all times knew he could stand mute and request a lawyer, and that he was aware of the State's intention to use his statements to secure a conviction, the analysis is complete and the waiver is valid as a matter of law. The level of the police's culpability -- whether intentional or inadvertent -- in failing to inform respondent of the telephone call has no bearing on the validity of the waivers. Pp. 475 U. S. 421-424.
(b) Miranda's reach will not be extended so as to require the reversal of a conviction if the police are less than forthright in their dealings with an attorney or if they fail to tell a suspect of an attorney's unilateral efforts to contact him. Reading Miranda to forbid police deception of an attorney would cut that decision loose from its rationale of guarding against abridgment of the suspect's Fifth Amendment rights. And, while a rule requiring that the police inform a suspect of an attorney's efforts to reach him might add marginally to Miranda's goal of dispelling the compulsion inherent in custodial interrogation, overriding practical considerations -- particularly the ease and clarity of Miranda's application -- counsel against adoption of the rule. Moreover, such a rule would work a substantial and inappropriate shift in the subtle balance struck in Miranda between society's legitimate law enforcement interests and the protection of the accused's Fifth Amendment rights. Pp. 475 U. S. 424-428.
2. The conduct of the police did not violate respondent's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. That right initially attaches only after the first formal charging procedure, whereas the challenged police conduct here occurred prior to respondent's arraignment. The contention that the right to noninterference with an attorney's dealings with a criminal suspect arises the moment that the relationship is formed, or, at the very least, once the suspect is placed in custodial interrogation, is not supported by precedent. Moreover, such contention is both practically
and theoretically unsound. By its very terms, the Sixth Amendment becomes applicable only when the government's role shifts from investigation to accusation through the initiation of adversary judicial proceedings. The possibility that custodial interrogation may have important consequences at trial, standing alone, is insufficient to trigger the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Pp. 475 U. S. 428-432.
3. Nor was the asserted misconduct of the police -- particularly the conveying of false information to the attorney -- so offensive as to deprive respondent of the fundamental fairness guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although, on facts more egregious than those presented here, police deception might rise to a level of a due process violation, the conduct challenged here falls short of the kind of misbehavior that so shocks the sensibilities of civilized society as to warrant a federal intrusion into the criminal processes of the States. Pp. 475 U. S. 432-434.
753 F.2d 178, reversed and remanded.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 434.