Massiah v. United States Case Brief

Summary of Massiah v. United States 377 U.S. 201 (1964)

STATEMENT OF THE CASE: The D claimed that the prosecution’s use at trial of surreptitiously obtained evidence of petitioner’s own incriminating statements while he was free on bail deprived him of any right secured under the U.S. Constitution.

PROCEDURE BELOW: The court of appeals affirmed a judgment of conviction against petitioner for violation of federal narcotics laws.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS: Massiah (D) was indicted on several federal narcotics violation and conspiracy to possess narcotics aboard a United States vessel. He retained a lawyer, pled not guilty, and was released on bail. A codefendant, Colson, also retained a lawyer, pled not guilty, and was released on bail. Colson then invited D to discuss the pending case in Colson’s car, parked on a city street. Unknown to D, Colson had agreed to cooperate with federal agents in the ongoing investigation. A radio transmitter was placed under the seat in Colson’s car, enabling a nearby federal agent to hear and record the conversation between the two defendants. During the conversation, D made several damaging admissions. On the basis of these admissions, D was convicted of several narcotics offenses. D’s convictions were affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. D appealed.

LEGAL ISSUE: Are self-incriminating statements elicited by law enforcement from a defendant after indictment and in the absence of counsel admissible at trial?

HOLDING: Law enforcement officials may not attempt to interrogate and deliberately elicit a confession from a defendant after indictment without the presence of counsel. This would violate defendant’s 6th Amendment right to counsel.

REASONING: (Stewart, J.) No. A defendant’s 6th Amendment right to counsel is severely violated when law enforcement officials deliberately attempt to interrogate and elicit a confession from a defendant after indictment without the presence of counsel. In Spano v. New York, the Court reversed a state criminal conviction because a confession by the defendant had been elicited after indictment and wrongly admitted into evidence. The Court found this a violation of the 14th Amendment. The concurring justices in Spano pointed out that a defendant is most in need of a lawyer’s help after indictment. Furthermore, to accord a defendant any less right to counsel at this stage of proceedings than what he is entitled to at trial itself would deny a defendant “effective representation by counsel.” Since the current case is a federal prosecution, the 6th Amendment guarantee to counsel is at stake. Spano is expanded. Any admission or incriminating statement made by a defendant a! fter indictment and outside the presence of counsel is not admissible at the trial itself. Reversed, for D.

DISSENT: (White, J.) The majority’s holding goes far beyond the intent of the constitutional protections against self-incrimination and the right to counsel. The intent historically has been to prevent coerced confessions. The majority’s holding now will prevent admission into evidence of any voluntary pretrial statement or confession made without counsel’s presence or consent.

CRITICAL SUMMARY: The voluntariness test subjects almost all situations to an interpretation of the facts. The counsel is present test eliminates any elements of interpretation regarding the confession other than those involving custody by the police. The dissent does not want to expand the exclusionary rule.



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