Massiah v. United States
377 U.S. 201, 84 S. Ct. 1199, 12 L. Ed.2d 246 (1964)

  • Massiah was indicted for drug charges. He got a lawyer, pled not guilty, and was freed on bail.
  • The police got Massiah’s codefendant, Colson, to cooperate. He invited Massiah over to talk, and the police secretly recorded the conversation. Colson got Massiah to say incriminating things, which the prosecution attempted to introduce at trial.
  • The Trial Court convicted Massiah of drug charges. He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction. Massiah appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Massiah was denied 6th Amendment protections when his own incriminating words were used against him at trial, when they had been deliberately elicited from him after he had been indicted and in the absence of counsel.
  • Basically, this case said that once criminal proceedings have begun, the government cannot bypass the defendant’s lawyer and try to elicit statements from the defendant.
    • The idea is that the 6th Amendment bars interrogating people after they’ve been indicted, unless their lawyer is present (or they waive the right). Secretly taping a person’s private conversation can be considered to be a surreptitious and indirect interrogation.
      • That’s technically an ex parte contact, which is again the Rules of Professional Responsibility.
  • In a dissent it was argued that Massiah was not prevented from consulting with his lawyer, and in fact did consult with his lawyer. Perhaps the lawyer should have warned him not to say incriminating things to people because the police might be listening.
    • There was no evidence that Massiah was being coerced or that his admissions were involuntary.
    • If Massiah told someone that he did it, and that person later went to the police, then Massiah’s admission would be admissible (remember Evidence class?)
  • The basic point of this case is that if you confess before trial, that admission of guilt makes a conviction an almost foregone conclusion. That makes defense counsel irrelevant. So the suspect is not given effective counsel, because there is no way he can win the case. That’s a violation of the 6th Amendment Right to Counsel.
    • Prior to this case, confessions had been thrown out on the grounds that they were involuntary and therefore unreliable. This case extended the doctrines to even voluntary confessions.