Connecticut v. Barrett

479 U. S. 523

January 27, 1987

When questioned by police, William Barrett, after being given the Miranda warning, stated that he would answer questions, but would not make a written statement without a lawyer. He was questioned and given the Miranda warning twice more, and he continued to talk but refuse to sign a statement without a lawyer. At his trial, Barrett testified that he had understood the Miranda warning completely. Supreme Court precedent made clear that questioning must cease when a suspect requests to have a lawyer, and that subsequent statements are inadmissible.

In a 7-2 decision, Rehnquist wrote that Barrett had not in fact requested a lawyer, and that he had knowingly waived his Miranda rights with respect to his oral statements. Based on the facts of the case, there could be no doubt that Barrett’s decision to talk was totally voluntary, and that he did not desire a lawyer for it. That he wanted a lawyer for a written statement was irrelevant, since none was ever solicited by the police. Brennan did not join Rehnquist’s opinion, but concurred in judgment. Brennan was concerned that Barrett may have not adequately understood his Miranda rights, but concluded that his testimony at trial allayed all doubts. On that basis only, he concurred.

Stevens dissented, and was joined by Marshall. He passive-aggressively whined about how the Court shouldn’t have taken the case given that its facts were so unique, and unlikely to be repeated. He also felt that Barrett’s case was little different from a previous one where the Court had held that the right to counsel had been invoked. In this case I have no sympathy for Stevens – the majority clearly had it right. Nothing that Miranda was actually designed to prevent happened here. Fun fact: the police tried to record Barrett’s statement twice, and both times the tape recorder failed. Gotta love 1980 technology!

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