Brewer v. Williams
430 U.S. 387, 97 S.Ct. 1232, 51 L.Ed.2d 424 (1977)

  • Williams was an escaped mental patient in Des Moines. After a little girl went missing, a witness reported that they had seen Williams carrying a suspicious bundle that might have contained the girl. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
  • Williams turned himself in in Davenport and was given a Miranda Warning. He conferred with his lawyer in Des Moines (McKnight) by phone, and with his lawyer in Davenport (Kelly).
  • A Des Moines policeman (Leaming) was sent to pick up Williams and deliver him back to Des Moines. Leaming was told by both Kelly and McKnight that he was not to be questioned during the drive. Williams understood this as well.
    • The police did not allow Kelly to accompany Williams on the drive.
    • Williams said that he would ‘tell the whole story’ after he got to Des Moines and consulted with McKnight.
  • During the drive, Leaming mused that he hoped they found the girl’s body before it started snowing, and how convenient it would be for them to just stop right now and look for it. He repeatedly told Williams that he did not want Williams to answer in any way, just “think about it.”
    • This became known as the famous “Christian Burial Speech.”
    • Leaming lied and told Williams that the police had a pretty good idea of where the body was.
  • Williams thought about it for a while, and then ‘voluntarily’ spoke up and directed Leaming to the body (and some other evidence).
  • The Trial Court convicted Williams of murder. He appealed.
    • Williams argued that the evidence should be inadmissible because he had improperly questioned by Leaming. However the Trial Judge allowed the confession to be admitted.
    • The Trial Judge found that although an agreement had been made to not question Williams, he had voluntarily waived his rights by speaking up.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Williams appealed.
  • The Federal Trial Court (on a habeus corpus petition), overturned the conviction. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Federal Trial Court found that the evidence has been improperly admitted. Specifically they found that:
      • Williams had been denied his constitutional right to counsel.
      • Williams has been denied his Miranda Warning.
      • Williams’ comments had been involuntarily made due to excessive coercion.
  • The Federal Appellate Court affirmed. The prosecutor appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court based their decision solely on the 6th Amendment right to counsel.
      • There is a case to be made that Leaming violated Williams’ 5th Amendment rights. But the Court chose not to address the issue.
        • See Rhode Island v. Innis (446 U.S. 291 (1980)).
        • Under Innis and the 5th Amendment, it is only interrogation when an objective policeman would think that the comments could elicit an incriminating response.
        • Here, under the 6th Amendment it is subjective as to whether Leaming specifically intentionally deliberately tried to elicit an incriminating response.
    • The Court looked to Massiah v. United States (377 U.S. 201 (1964)) and found that once adversarial proceedings have commenced against an individual, he has the right to legal representation when the government interrogates him.
      • Once the right to counsel attaches, it is important for the lawyer to be there for all important proceedings. Otherwise counsel can’t be effective. Giving a confession under custodial interrogation is important because once you confess, it is very difficult to get acquitted.
    • The Court noted that while you could argue that Williams had waived his right to remain silent by talking, nothing he did or said could be interpreted as having waived his right to counsel.
      • The Court noted that it is possible to waive your right to counsel, but Williams had clearly not done so. He consistently requested counsel at every state of his arrest and transport.
  • In a concurrence it was argued that the purpose of the decision was to ensure good police behavior, and you shouldn’t lose sight of that just because Williams was a dangerous pervert.
    • It was noted that there was enough other evidence to convict Williams anyway, so he wasn’t going to be found innocent on retrial.
    • Because of ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ on remand Williams tried to get the girl’s body excluded. It came back up to the US Supreme Court which allowed the body to be entered into evidence because of the inevitable discovery exception to the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.
      • The inevitable discovery exception says that since they police would have certainly found the body anyway, the defendant should not ‘reap a bounty’ by having it excluded
  • In three dissents it was argued that Williams had voluntarily waived his right to counsel by speaking up. He was advised by two lawyers and given multiple Miranda Warnings. How could his statement not be considered a voluntary waiver?
    • The dissent also argued that an obviously guilty dangerous pervert shouldn’t be set free just because the police did not do everything in a constitutionally proper manner. Basically, the exclusionary rule should be reevaluated in light of a totality of the circumstances approach between the cost to society and the cost the defendant.
    • The dissent also argued that Lemming’s statements should not have been considered an ‘interrogation’, and even if they were, they could be considered an exception to the rule because Lemming’s purpose was not solely to obtain incriminating evidence, but to find the (possibly alive) girl.
  • Btw, when this case was being argued, opponents of the Miranda Warning pushed very hard in amicus briefs to get the requirement overturned. But the Court based their ruling on the 6th Amendment, and didn’t bother mentioning the Miranda Warning issue very much.