Kuhlman v. Wilson
477 U.S. 436, 106 S.Ct. 2616, 91 L.Ed.2d 364 (1986))

  • Wilson and two other guys were suspected of robbing a store and killing a security guard.
  • Wilson turned himself in, but claimed that he was not involved in the robbery, but was just an innocent bystander.
    • Wilson gave a physical description of the other two guys but claimed that he didn’t know who they were.
  • Before his arraignment, the police deliberately put Wilson into a holding cell with a prison snitch named Lee.
    • Lee was told by the police to not ask Wilson any questions, but just report back on anything he said.
    • After a few days, Wilson admitted to Lee that he was an active participant in the robbery.
  • The Trial Court found Wilson guilty of robbery and murder. Wilson appealed.
    • Wilson argued that his confession to Lee had been improperly admitted in violation of his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, but the Trial Judge found that Lee had not ‘interrogated’ Wilson and that Wilson’s statements were spontaneous and unsolicited.
      • See Illinois v. Perkins (496 U.S. 292 (1990)).
  • After numerous courts had denied Wilson relief on his 5th Amendment claim, he filed for habeus corpus on a 6th Amendment claim that he had been denied his right to counsel.
    • Wilson based his new claim on United States v. Henry (447 U.S. 264 (1980)) which found that a jailhouse informant who asked Henry questions outside of the presence of Henry’s lawyer was a violation of the right to counsel.
  • The Federal Trial Court upheld the conviction. Wilson appealed.
    • The Federal Trial Court distinguished Henry by saying that in this case, Lee “took no affirmative actions” to get Wilson to talk.
  • The Federal Appellate Court reversed. The prosecutor appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the 6th Amendment is not violated when the government just happens to obtain incriminating evidence after the right to counsel has attached. “The defendant must demonstrate that the police and their informant took some action, beyond merely listening, that was designed to deliberately elicit incriminating remarks.”
  • In a dissent it was argued that Henry and Massiah v. United States (377 U.S. 201 (1964)) specifically encompass subtle forms of questioning. The dissent argued that in this case, the police intentionally created a situation in which it was foreseeable that Wilson would make incriminating statements without the assistance of counsel. In the dissent’s opinion, that constituted deliberate elicitation.