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Brewer v. Williams


The defendant was suspected of abducting and murdering a 10-year old girl. He was arrested, arraigned, and committed to jail 160 miles away from the crime scene. His attorney advised him not to make any statements. The officers accompanying the defendant on his return trip agreed not to question him during the trip. One of the officers, which knew that the defendant was a former mental patient and was deeply religious, engaged him in a conversation covering a wide range of topics, including religion. The officer delivered what has been referred to as the “Christian burial speech.” He addressed the defendant as “Reverend” and said:

I want to give you something to think about…. They are predicting several inches of snow for tonight…you are the only person that knows where this little girl’s body is…. And since we are going right past the area…I feel we could stop and locate the body, that the parents of this little girl should be entitled to a Christian burial for the little girl…. We should stop and locate it…rather than waiting until… a snowstorm…. The officer stated: “I do not want you to answer me…. Just think about it….” The defendant made incriminating statements and directed the officers to evidence and the victim’s body.


Whether the defendant was “questioned” within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment?


Yes. The officer’s actions were designed to motivate the defendant into revealing information.


The right to counsel means at least that a person is entitled to the help of a lawyer at or after the time judicial proceedings have been commenced against him, whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information or arraignment. The Court found little doubt that the officer deliberately set out to elicit information from the defendant just as surely as, and perhaps more effectively than, if he had formally interrogated him. The “Christian burial speech” was equivalent to questioning. As the defendant had been interrogated without his attorney present, the officer violated his Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel.


430 U.S. 387, 97 S. Ct. 1232 (1977)

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