Summary of Illinois v. Perkins 496 U.S. 292 (1990)
Nature of the case: The D successfully suppressed the evidence obtained by an undercover agent placed in the jail. This is an appeal, by the State, to overturn the suppression of incriminating statements.
Procedure below: The D was charged with murder, but the trial court–the circuit court of St. Clair County, Illinois–granted the suspect’s pretrial motion to suppress the statements made to the agent in the jail. On appeal, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District, in affirming, expressed the view that Miranda prohibited all undercover contacts which were reasonably likely to elicit incriminating responses from incarcerated suspects.
Facts: Charlton informed police that while incarcerated with Perkins (D) in another prison, D had implicated himself in the Stephenson murder. This murder was unrelated to the one for which D was serving time. The police placed Charlton and Parisi, an undercover agent, in the same cellblock with D with instructions to engage D in casual conversation and to report any incriminating statements concerning the murder. Charlton introduced Parisi to D. Parisi subsequently suggested an escape attempt. While planning the escape, Parisi told Charlton that he would be responsible for killing anyone that might prevent the prison break. Parisi asked D if he had ever “done” anybody. D replied in the affirmative and began to describe the murder and his involvement. The trial court suppressed the statements made to Parisi in jail. The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed, holding that Miranda prohibited all undercover contacts with incarcerated suspects which are reasonabl! y likely to elicit an incriminating response. The State (P) appealed.
Legal issue: Are Miranda warnings required when the suspect is unaware that he is speaking to a law enforcement officer and gives a voluntary statement?
Rule of law: Conversations between suspects and undercover agents do not require Miranda warnings.
Holding and decision: (Kennedy, J.) No. Conversations between suspects and undercover agents do not require Miranda warnings. The essential ingredients of a “police-dominated atmosphere” and compulsion are not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely with someone he believes to be a fellow inmate. Therefore, coercion is determined subjectively through the perspective of the suspect. The necessary interplay between police interrogation and police custody is absent where a suspect is unaware he is conversing with an undercover agent. Coercion is determined from the perspective of the suspect. Therefore, where a suspect considers himself among cellmates, coercion is nonexistent for the purposes of Miranda. The tactics in this case did not violate the 5th Amendment’s Self-Incrimination Clause. The fact that D was incarcerated when he made his confession to the undercover agent did not warrant a conclusion that the statement was involuntary. Massiah didn&#! 8217;t apply because no charges had been filed against D on the subject of the interrogation; thus, sixth Amendment precedents were not applicable. Reversed, for P.
Concurrence: (Brennan, J.) The deception and manipulation practiced on D raised a substantial claim that the confession was in violation of the Due Process Clause. The method used to elicit the confession in this case warranted close scrutiny.
Dissent: (Marshall, J.) This was a case of custodial interrogation which required a Miranda warning. Because of the absence of such warning, D’s confession was inadmissible. Miranda deals with any police tactics that may operate to compel a suspect in custody to make incriminating statements without knowledge of his constitutional rights. Thus, as in this case, when a law enforcement officer compels a suspect to confess through deception, he must inform the suspect of his rights. The psychological pressures of incarceration make such an environment inherently coercive. These pressures are unabated by the fact that the suspect was ignorant to the agent’s true identity. The majority’s adoption of the “undercover agent” exception opened a large loophole in the Miranda rule.
Critical summary: This ruling has produced a very large hole in Miranda and a large incentive for police to conduct in prison investigations through the use of undercover agents.