Colorado v. Spring
Annotate this Case
479 U.S. 564 (1987)
U.S. Supreme Court
Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564 (1987)
Colorado v. Spring
Argued December 9, 1986
Decided January 27, 1987
479 U.S. 564
In February, 1979, respondent and a companion shot and killed one Walker during a hunting trip in Colorado. Thereafter, based on information received from an informant as to respondent's involvement in the interstate transportation of stolen firearms, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) set up an undercover purchase of firearms from respondent, and on March 30, 1979, arrested him. After being advised of his Miranda rights, respondent signed a statement that he understood and waived his rights and was willing to answer questions. The agents then questioned him about the firearms transactions that led to his arrest and also asked him whether he had ever shot anyone, to which he answered that he had "shot another guy once." But when asked whether he had shot a man named Walker, he said "no." On May 26, 1979, Colorado law enforcement officers gave respondent Miranda warnings, and he again signed a statement that he understood his rights and was willing to waive them. He then confessed to the Colorado murder and signed a statement to that effect. Upon being charged in a Colorado state court with first-degree murder, respondent moved to suppress both the March 30 and May 26 statements on the ground that his waiver of Miranda rights was invalid. The trial court held that the ATF agents' failure to inform respondent before the March 30 interview that they would question him about the Colorado murder did not affect the waiver, and that therefore the March 30 statement should not be suppressed. But, while ruling that the March 30 statement was inadmissible on other grounds, the court held that the May 26 statement was made freely, voluntarily, and intelligently, and should not be suppressed, and hence admitted it in evidence, and respondent was convicted. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent's waiver of his Miranda rights before the March 30 statement was invalid because he was not informed that he would be questioned about the Colorado murder, and that the State had failed to prove the May 26 statement was not the product of the prior illegal statement. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, holding that respondent's confession to the murder should have been suppressed because it was the illegal "fruit" of the March 30 statement.
Held: A suspect's awareness of all the crimes about which he may be questioned is not relevant to determining the validity of his decision to waive the Fifth Amendment privilege; accordingly, the ATF agents' failure to inform respondent of the subject matter of the interrogation could not affect his decision to waive that privilege in a constitutionally significant manner. Pp. 479 U. S. 571-577.
(a) A confession cannot be "fruit of the poisonous tree" if the tree itself is not poisonous. Pp. 479 U. S. 571-572.
(b) Respondent's March 30 decision to waive his Fifth Amendment privilege was voluntary absent evidence that his will was overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired because of coercive police conduct. His waiver was also knowingly and intelligently made, that is, he understood that he had the right to remain silent and that anything he said could be used as evidence against him. The Constitution does not require that a suspect know and understand every possible consequence of a waiver of the Fifth Amendment privilege. Here, there was no allegation that respondent failed to understand that privilege or that he misunderstood the consequences of speaking freely. 479 U. S. 573-575.
(c) Mere silence by law enforcement officials as to the subject matter of an interrogation is not "trickery" sufficient to invalidate a suspect's waiver of Miranda rights. Once Miranda warnings are given, it is difficult to see how official silence could cause a suspect to misunderstand the nature of his constitutional privilege to refuse to answer any questions that might incriminate him. The additional information in question in this case could affect only the wisdom of a Miranda waiver, not its voluntary and knowing nature. Pp. 479 U. S. 575-577.
713 P.2d 865, reversed and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 577.