Connecticut v. Barrett
Annotate this Case
479 U.S. 523 (1987)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Connecticut v. Barrett, 479 U.S. 523 (1987)
Connecticut v. Barrett
Argued December 9, 1986
Decided January 27, 1987
479 U.S. 523
Respondent, while in custody on suspicion of sexual assault, was three times advised by the police of his Miranda rights. On each occasion, after signing and dating an acknowledgment that he had been given those rights, respondent indicated to the police that he would not make a written statement, but that he was willing to talk about the incident that led to his arrest. On the second and third such occasions, he added that he would not make a written statement outside the presence of counsel, and then orally admitted his involvement in the sexual assault. One of the police officers reduced to writing his recollection of respondent's last such statement, and the confession was introduced into evidence at respondent's trial. The trial court refused to suppress the confession, finding that respondent had fully understood the Miranda warnings and had voluntarily waived his right to counsel. Respondent's conviction of sexual assault, inter alia, was reversed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, which held that his expressed desire for counsel before making a written statement constituted an invocation of his right to counsel for all purposes, that he had not waived that right by initiating further discussion with the police, and that, therefore, the incriminating statement was improperly admitted into evidence under Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U. S. 477.
Held: The Constitution did not require suppression of respondent's incriminating statement. Pp. 479 U. S. 527-530.
(a) Respondent's statements to the police made clear his willingness to talk about the sexual assault, and, there being no evidence that he was "threatened, tricked, or cajoled" into speaking to the police, the trial court properly found that his decision to do so constituted a voluntary waiver of his right to counsel. Although the Miranda rules were designed to protect defendants from being compelled by the government to make statements, they also give defendants the right to choose between speech and silence. Pp. 479 U. S. 527-529.
(b) Respondent's invocation of his right to counsel was limited by its terms to the making of written statements, and did not prohibit all further discussion with police. Requests for counsel must be given broad, all-inclusive effect only when the defendant's words, understood as ordinary people would understand them, are ambiguous. Here, respondent
clearly and unequivocally expressed his willingness to speak to police about the sexual assault. Pp. 479 U. S. 529-530.
(c) The distinction drawn by respondent between oral and written statements did not indicate an understanding so incomplete as to render his limited invocation of the right to counsel effective for all purposes. To so hold would contravene his testimony, and the trial court's finding, that he fully understood his Miranda warnings, including the warning that anything he said to police could be used against him. A defendant's ignorance of the full consequences of his decisions does not vitiate their voluntariness. P. 479 U. S. 530.
197 Conn.60, 496 A.2d 1044, reversed and remanded.
REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 479 U. S. 530. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 536.