Davis v. United States

Davis v. United States Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
512 U.S. 452 (1994)

ISSUE: Must the police cease questioning of a suspect if he makes an objectively ambiguous mention of a consulting with counsel?
HOLDING: No.
FACTS:
  • D spent an evening shooting pool with another sailor who owed him money
  • The other sailor's body was found beaten to death
  • D was given his rights and then questioned about the murder
  • D said "Maybe I should talk to a lawyer," and when asked if that meant he wanted one, he said no
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • D moved to suppress statements, which was denied
  • Convicted of unpremeditated murder
  • Navy-Marine Corps Court of Military Review affirmed
  • US Ct. of Military Appeals also affirmed
RULES:
  • Edwards v. Arizona: If a suspect requests counsel at any time during the interview, he is not subject to further questioning until a lawyer has been made available or the suspect himself reinitiates the conversation
REASONING:
  • Objective standard: The rigid, prophylactic rule ofEdwards requires courts to determine whether the accused actually invoked his right to counsel, which is governed by an objective standard
  • Unambiguous request: The suspect must unambiguously request counsel
    • Must articulate his desire to have counsel present sufficiently clearly that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand the statement to be a request for an attorney
    • Cessation of questioning upon ambiguous statements would needlessly thwart legitimate police investigation
COMMENTS:
  • If a suspect wants to invoke his right to assistance of counsel for custodial interrogation, as provided by Miranda v. Arizona, this invocation must be unambiguous and unequivocal. "I think I want a lawyer" or "Maybe I should talk to a lawyer" won't work. The magic words everyone should remember are "I want a lawyer." The police are not required to clarify what the suspect wants to do when he makes an ambiguous "invocation."
  • Practically, many suspects are going to be understandably nervous and may want to remain respectful to the police. However, a custodial interrogation is an adversarial atmosphere, and a suspect must assert his rights or they will be lost.

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