The defendant was arrested as a result of a gang fight in which one member of a rival gang was killed. Following his arrest, the defendant was advised of and waived his Miranda rights. He then acknowledged his involvement in the fight, but denied culpability in the murder. Two days later, while still in custody, the defendant was indicted. The officer that had initially questioned the defendant removed him from his jail cell and told the defendant that, because he had been indicted, he was being moved. When he learned that one particular gang member had not been indicted, the defendant asked the officer, “Why wasn’t he indicted, he did everything?” The defendant then began to explain his involvement in the crime. At that point, the officer interrupted the defendant and handed him a Miranda waiver form. The defendant initialed each of the warnings, signed the waiver form, and gave a lengthy statement implicating himself in the murder. Later that day, the defendant gave a second incriminating statement to a prosecutor. Before doing so, the defendant had again been advised of his Miranda rights and waived them. At trial, the defendant claimed that, because he had been indicted and had a Sixth Amendment right to counsel, the officer and the prosecuting attorney could not initiate an interrogation with him. The defendant also contended that while Miranda warnings are sufficient to waive a suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights, they are insufficient to waive the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
1. Once the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches, is the government prohibited from questioning a suspect?
2. Whether a waiver of Miranda rights is sufficient to waive a suspect’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel?
1. No. Even though the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches, the government is not barred from questioning a suspect in all cases.
2. Yes. A suspect can effectively waive his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by waiving those rights via the Miranda waiver form.
Because the defendant had been indicted at the time he was interrogated by the officer and the prosecutor, he had a Sixth Amendment right to have the assistance of counsel at both interrogations. However, the fact that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was in existence at the time of the questioning does not mean that he exercised that right. In this case, the defendant never sought to exercise his right to have counsel present at either interrogation. “Had the defendant indicated he wanted the assistance of counsel, the authorities’ interview with him would have stopped, and further questioning would have been forbidden (unless the defendant called for such a meeting).”
The Court held that “as a general matter, an accused who is admonished with the warnings required by Miranda has been sufficiently appraised of the nature of his Sixth Amendment rights, and of the consequences of abandoning those rights, so that his waiver on that basis will be considered a knowing and intelligent one.” First, the accused is specifically notified of his right to counsel in the Miranda warnings. Second, the accused is advised of the “ultimate adverse consequence” of proceeding without a lawyer, namely, that any statement he chooses to make can be used against him in any subsequent criminal proceedings. However, the Court made clear that there are circumstances where the post-indictment questioning of a suspect will not survive a Sixth Amendment challenge, even though the challenged practice would be constitutional under Miranda. For example, the Court has “permitted a Miranda waiver to stand where a suspect was not told that his lawyer was trying to reach him during questioning,” whereas under the Sixth Amendment this waiver would not be valid. Also, “a surreptitious conversation between an undercover police officer and an unindicted suspect would not give rise to any Miranda violation as long as the ‘interrogation’ was not in a custodial setting; however, once the accused is indicted, such questioning would be prohibited.”
487 U.S. 285, 108 S. Ct. 2389 (1988)