Summary of Montejo v. Louisiana
Citation: 556 U.S. 778 (2009)
Relevant Facts: Petitioner Montejo was arrested in Louisiana and charged with first-degree murder. At his arraignment, the judge order court-appointed counsel assigned. Montejo neither requested counsel nor refused assistance. Two days after his arraignment, and before he had the opportunity to meet with court-appointed counsel, Montejo was visited by police officers who interrogated him and requested that he go with them to help locate the murder weapon. The precise nature of the discussion between Montejo and the police officers was disputed. After some discussion, however, Montejo- having been again read his Miranda rights- agreed to accompany the officers. During the course of their trip, Montejo wrote an incriminating letter attempting to apologize to the widow. Only upon his return with the officers was Montejo first afforded the opportunity to meet with his appointed attorney. At trial, Montejo’s letter was introduced into evidence by the State of Louisiana, over defense counsel’s objection. Montejo was convicted and sentenced to death. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, concluding that since Montejo had never formally invoked his right to counsel officers were not prohibited from further interrogations outside the presence of counsel.
Issue: May a criminal defendant that has never personally, formally invoked his right to counsel be questioned by police after waiving his right to counsel, consistent with the requirements of the Sixth Amendment?
Holding: Yes, defendants that have not invoked their right to counsel can voluntarily waive their right to counsel, and to remain silent, even after the court has appointed an attorney. The Fifth Amendment right to counsel attaches when invoked, and the Sixth Amendment right attaches at the commission of adversarial proceedings. Former prophylactic rules prohibiting police questioning after counsel has been appointed are accordingly overruled.
Reasoning: Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court. First, Justice Scalia pointed out that this case relied on whether the decision in Michigan v. Jackson (475 U.S. 625 , holding that police may not initiate an interrogation after counsel has been appointed at an arraignment or similar proceeding) and the prophylactic protections therein were still viable. The majority concluded that they were not. First, that rule as interpreted by the Louisiana Supreme Court would be unworkable, requiring defendants to formally invoke their right to counsel where in half the states attorneys are automatically assigned to indigent defendants. Next, the Court pointed out that the Jackson rule was intended to prevent police from badgering defendants into waiving their right to counsel once attached, but had little practicality here where the defendant had never asserted his own right to counsel. Rather, defendants should be free to speak to police, and offer incriminating statements, so long as they have been provided and understand their rights. Police, on the other hand, should be free to question and interrogate suspects until the right to counsel attaches under the Sixth Amendment or is invoked under the Fifth Amendment. As to stare decisis and their decision to overrule Jackson, the Court considered four factors. First, the Court determined that the prohibition on police-initiated interrogations under the circumstances here was unworkable, as it prevented defendants from waiving their right to counsel even where they had not yet asserted it. Next, the Court pointed out that Jackson was relatively recent and therefore more easily overturned than long-standing precedent. Third, the Court found that reliance on the earlier precedent did not support upholding the former rule, as criminal defendants capable of claiming the former protections should be capable of asserting their rights in the absence of those protections. Finally, as to the quality of reasoning in Jackson, the majority found that the benefits of the rule were outweighed by its costs, as other protections were readily available and more appropriate while the former rule served to prevent traditional police interrogations and allowed crimes to go unsolved. Accordingly, the Court ruled that Jackson was overruled. Finally, the Court held that Montejo should still have the opportunity to challenge admission of his letter under Edwards v. Arizona (451 U.S. 477 , holding that interrogations must cease after suspects invoke their right to counsel), as an Edwards objection would have been likely absent the protections of Jackson.
Concurrence/Dissent: Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Kennedy. Justice Alito argued that the objections of the dissenters were misplaced, and that while bright-line rules aid law enforcement in fulfilling their duties, neither stare decisis nor preference for easily-applied rules prevented the result here where the rule produced significant problems. Justice Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Souter and Ginsburg, and also joined by Justice Breyer with regard to all but Footnote 5 (arguing that Justice Alito’s analysis of stare decisis and response to the dissent was misplaced). Justice Stevens agreed with the majority that artificially distinguishing between defendants in states that automatically assign counsel versus states where defendants must request an attorney was unwise, but argued that the Court misinterpreted the principled basis for Jackson (having written the opinion in that case). In Justice Stevens view, the prophylactic rule of Jackson protected the importance of the right to counsel following appointment, rather than merely preventing police misconduct aimed at getting a defendant to waive his rights. Justice Breyer filed a separate, brief dissenting opinion, arguing that stare decisis is not inflexible, but bound the Court here, as he had argued in other cases.
Conclusion: Police may, consistent with the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, question defendants after they have been assigned counsel so long as they have not invoked their rights under the Fifth Amendment or had their right to counsel attached under the Sixth Amendment. Police may initiate such interrogations, notwithstanding former bright-line rules intended to prevent police misconduct in similar circumstances.