Brewer v. Williams

Brewer v. Williams Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
430 U.S. 387 (1977)

ISSUE: Was it a violation of D's right to assistance of counsel when officers made statements in a car with him reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from D in the absence of D's attorney?
HOLDING: Yes.
FACTS:
  • A young girl, Pamela Powers, went missing at a YMCA where D, who had recently escaped from a mental hospital was staying
  • D asked a young boy to help him take a mass wrapped in a blanket outside and into his car, and the boy saw 2 small white legs under the blanket
  • An arrest warrant was issued for D and he turned himself in at a police station 160 miles away
  • Officers from the Des Moines PD traveled to where D turned himself in, and D's atty in Des Moines told him not to say anything and the police agreed not to question him
  • D was arraigned in Davenport, spoke with another lawyer there, and then the police from Des Moines picked him up
  • During the ride, an officer engaged D in the "Christian burial speech" and D then told them where the body was buried
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Trial Ct. denied motion to suppress holding that D waived his right to an atty
  • Iowa Sup. Ct. affirmed
  • D then filed a writ of habeas corpus in a US Dist. Ct., which was granted
  • Ct. App. affirmed
REASONING:
  • Right to counsel violated: Williams was entitled to the assistance of counsel guaranteed to him by the 6th and 14th Amdts. and that was violated here
    • Judicial proceedings against D had already begun, so the rule in Massiah kicked in
    • Officer deliberately and designedly set out to elicit info from Williams, which constituted interrogation
  • No waiver: The circumstances here provide no reasonable basis for finding that Williams waived his right to assistance of counsel
    • Contrary to how the state courts acted, the burden of establishing a waiver was on the prosecution
    • Waivers require more than just mere comprehension of one's rights
    • D expressly and implicitly invoked his right to counsel several times
COMMENTS:

OTHER CASES:
  • Texas v. Cobb: Right to counsel is offense-specific -- if D was charged with one offense and is represented by counsel, the police can still question him in the absence of counsel about a separate offense for which adversarial proceeding have not yet been initiated

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