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Moran v. Burbine


The defendant was arrested for burglary. The government obtained evidence suggesting that the defendant might be also responsible for the murder of a woman in Providence. The officers telephoned the Providence police and an hour later Providence officers arrived at the station to question the defendant. That same evening the defendant’s sister telephoned the Public Defender’s Office to obtain legal assistance for the defendant on the burglary charge. She was unaware that he was also suspected of involvement in a murder. At 8:15 p.m., an Assistant Public Defender telephoned the station, stated that she would act as the defendant’s counsel if the police intended to question him, and was told that he would not be questioned further until the next day. The Public Defender was not informed that the Providence police were present or that the defendant was a murder suspect. Less than an hour later, the Providence police interviewed the defendant after providing him with his Miranda warnings. The defendant admitted to committing the murder. At all relevant times, the defendant was unaware of his sister’s efforts to retain counsel and of the attorney’s telephone call, but at no time did he request an attorney.


Whether the police violated either the defendant’s Miranda rights or his Sixth Amendment right to counsel?


No. The defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his Fifth Amendment rights and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel had not yet attached.


The Court held that the officer’s failure to inform the defendant of the attorney’s telephone call did not deprive him of information essential to his ability to knowingly waive his Fifth Amendment rights. Events occurring outside of a suspect’s presence and entirely unknown to him have no bearing on the capacity to comprehend and knowingly relinquish a constitutional protection. Once it is demonstrated that a suspect’s decision to waive his rights was uncoerced, that he at all times knew he could stand silent and request a lawyer, and that he was aware of the government’s intention to use his statements to secure a conviction, the analysis is complete and the waiver is valid as a matter of law.

Further, the conduct of the police did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. This right initially attaches only after the first formal charging procedure, whereas the government’s conduct here occurred before the defendant’s initial appearance. The Sixth Amendment becomes applicable only when the government’s role shifts from investigation to accusation through the initiation of the adversarial judicial process. Nor was the asserted government misconduct so offensive as to deprive the defendant of the fundamental fairness guaranteed by due process. Although on facts more egregious than those presented here police deception might rise to a level of a due process violation, the conduct challenged falls short of the kind of misbehavior that shocks the sensibilities of civilized society.


475 U.S. 412, 106 S. Ct. 1135 (1986)

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