Patterson v. Illinois

487 U. S. 285

June 24, 1988

A gang member was indicted for murder. Subsequently, but before he received a lawyer, this gang member made inculpatory statements upon being given the Miranda warning. At trial, he moved to suppress these statements on the grounds that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel had been violated by the interview, and that he had not been duly informed of the consequences of waiving his right to a lawyer by the Miranda warning.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that his confessions were admissible. White said that there was nothing wrong with initiating an interview with an indicted suspect as long as he was always free to cut off the interview by requesting a lawyer. This was the rule in Edwards, and White would not disturb it. As to the sufficiency of the waiver, White pointed out that the Miranda warning summarized the dangers of making statements without counsel quite accurately and succinctly. He further noted that no one had been able to come up with a better warning that the suspect could have been presented with before making the decision to waive his rights. White concluded with the argument that indictment did not make the need for a lawyer more weighty than the need for a lawyer in the pre-indictment investigation context.

Blackmun, in dissent, said that a lawyer must be appointed before any post-indictment questioning begins. Stevens, joined by Brennan and Marshall, argued that questioning a party in a case without their lawyer is universally considered unethical in the civil context. Once the indictment occurs, there are formal adversarial proceedings, and taking advantage of an unrepresented party requires a very well informed waiver. Stevens said that Miranda’s bare warnings were not sufficient to really alert the suspect of the dangers of talking without a lawyer. Furthermore, he found a conflict of interest in the police offering the Miranda warning at all after an indictment. He said it was effectively the prosecution offering the defense legal advice.

There’s something messed up about being so dead set against voluntary confessions. Voluntary confessions are something to be encouraged, and not something to be thwarted at every turn. There’s very little gain to society in making it needlessly difficult to convict people who will openly admit to their guilt.

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One thought on “Patterson v. Illinois

  1. Pingback: 1987-1988 Conservative Victories | Vintage Bracketology

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