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Texas v. Cobb


While under arrest for an unrelated offense, the defendant confessed to a home burglary. However, he denied knowledge of a woman and child’s disappearance from the home. He was indicted for the burglary, and counsel was appointed to represent him. He later confessed to his father that he had killed the woman and child, and his father then contacted the police. While in custody, the defendant waived his Miranda rights and confessed to the murders. This confession was used against him in the murder trial. The defendant argued that the government deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel since the adversarial process had been initiated for a related offense (the burglary).


Whether the officers must provide counsel for closely related but uncharged criminal matters if counsel already represents the defendant?


No. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel only attaches to the crimes for which a defendant has been formally charged.


The Supreme Court held that, regardless of whether the murder charge was closely related factually to the burglary offense, the right to counsel was specific to the charged offense. Since the two offenses required different elements of proof, they are separate offenses. As prosecution had not been initiated for the murder offense at the time of the interrogation, no Sixth Amendment right to counsel had attached to it. The defendant had no right to the presence of his previously appointed counsel during the interrogation concerning the murder charge, and the confession resulting from that interrogation was admissible.

Although the Sixth Amendment right to counsel clearly attaches only to charged offenses, the Court has recognized that the definition of an “offense” is not limited to the four corners of a charging document. The test to determine whether there are two different offenses or only one is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not. See Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932). The Blockburger test has been applied to delineate the scope of the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause, which prevents multiple or successive prosecutions for the “same offense.” When the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches, it encompasses offenses that, even if not formally charged, would be considered the same offense under the Blockburger test.


532 U.S. 162, 121 S. Ct. 1335 (2001)

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