North Carolina v. Butler

North Carolina v. Butler Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
441 U.S. 369 (1979)

ISSUE: Must officers obtain an express waiver from a D of his Miranda rights as a necessary condition for the admissibility of subsequent statements?
HOLDING: No.
FACTS:
  • D was convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery, and felonious assault after he and another man robbed a gas station and shot the attendant during the escape
  • An FBI agent gave D an "Advice of Rights" form, which D refused to sign -- there is controversy over whether the agents orally gave D his rights
  • D said, "I will talk to you but I am not signing any form." -- D proceeded to make inculpatory statements
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Trial Ct. denied motion to suppress statements and D was found guilty
  • NC Sup. Ct. reversed convictions finding that there had not been a specific oral waiver
REASONING:
  • Not about form: The question is not one of form, but rather whether the D in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived the rights delineated in Miranda
    • Mere silence is not enough, however
    • But in some cases, waiver can be inferred from the actions and words of the person interrogated
  • D gave waiver: No doubt that D was adequately and effectively apprised of his rights
    • No reason why an express waiver need be a precondition to admissibility
DISSENT:
  • Miranda requires a specific waiver after rights are read
  • Court has held that an affirmative waiver is necessary
  • Disagreement over whether D can read, so without oral reading of rights, he cannot be said to have knowingly waived them
  • A simple prophylactic rule requiring the police to obtain and express waiver of the right to counsel before proceeding with interrogation eliminates difficulties
COMMENTS:
  • A suspect unschooled in criminal procedure might think that he has to expressly waive his rights guaranteed by Miranda, but he would be wrong. Butler holds that the police are not required to obtain an express waiver as a necessary precondition to the admissibility of a post-Miranda statement. The Supreme Court essentially chalks its decision up to substance over form: a waiver, express or implied, is still a waiver.
  • The Court does emphasize that "mere silence" is not enough to constitute an implied waiver. However, only literal "mere silence" is not enough, as Berghuis v. Thompkins makes clear. But regardless, the statement that "mere silence" will not suffice for an implied waiver is a bit sophistical. After all, how can one be concerned with a suspect's statement when he hasn't made a statement to begin with?

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