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Fellers v. United States


A grand jury indicted the defendant for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. Officers went to his home and informed the defendant that he had been indicted, that they had a warrant for his arrest and they wanted to talk to him about his participation. The officers explained that the indictment referred to the defendant’s association with others, and named four individuals. The defendant made incriminating statements about his involvement with these individuals. The officers took the defendant to a local jail and then, for the first time, advised him of his Miranda rights. The defendant signed Miranda waiver form and repeated his incriminating remarks.


Whether the defendant’s statements made at his home were the result of adversarial government questioning in violation of the Sixth Amendment?


Yes. The government deliberately elicited incriminating information from the defendant after the adversarial process had been initiated and without counsel present or obtaining the defendant’s waiver of counsel.


An indictment initiates the adversarial process. From that moment onward, the government is prohibited from deliberately eliciting incriminating information from a defendant unless the defendant waives his right to assistance of counsel (Sixth Amendment). The Court had no doubt that the government deliberately elicited information from the defendant at his home. In fact, the officers told the defendant that they wanted to speak to him about his involvement in the crime for which he had been indicted. These statements were taken in violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to have counsel present.

As for the defendant’s statements made at the jailhouse, the Court noted that it had not had the occasion to consider whether the Fifth Amendment’s Elstad taint rule (from Oregon v. Elstad (1985)) was applicable to a Sixth Amendment violation. The Court sent this issue back to the appellate court for further review.


540 U.S. 519, 124 S. Ct. 1019 (2004)

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