Summary of Escobedo v. Illinois
Citation: 378 U.S. 478
Relevant Facts: The defendant was arrested in connection with the murder of a relative. During the time he was in custody, his attorney attempted to reach him for consultation. He was informed he could not speak to his attorney, and his attorney was informed that he could not speak to his client. During his interrogation, he made statements that were later used against him at trial where he was convicted.
Issue: Whether the refusal by police to allow a defendant to consult with his attorney during the course of their interrogation constitutes denial of “assistance of counsel’ under the 6th Amendment?
Holding: When an investigation is no longer general, having focused on a suspect, and the suspect requests an attorney, the state violates the 6th amendment by refusing to allow consultation and failing to inform the suspect of his absolute right to remain silent.
Reasoning: The Court provided a lengthy recitation of the history of access to counsel in criminal cases. They further detailed the development of 6th amendment jurisprudence and the ever-growing volume of protections for criminal defendants, effective assistance of counsel chief among them. When, as in this case, the police seek to obtain a statement as evidence in a criminal case, the accused should be afforded the opportunity to refuse further assistance in their investigation- aided in that regard both by the Constitutionally protected right of silence and the concomitant guarantee of counsel.
Mindful that the rule announced may hinder prosecutors in obtaining confessions, the Court reasoned that any system of criminal justice that is dependent on confessions from suspects (as opposed to physical and other evidence tending to establish guilt) is inherently flawed. Here, the majority concluded that such a scheme – dependent on obtaining confessions – necessarily required suspects to abdicate their Constitutional rights in order for the system to function. The Court was particularly mindful of police refusal to grant repeated, direct request to consult with an attorney, coupled with failure to inform the defendant of his right to remain silent. The holding was limited to investigations that have progressed beyond general inquiries – having focused on a suspect – and in which the adversarial process is underway as investigators seek to elicit not merely information but statements that would reasonably be considered confessions.
Dissent: Justice Harlan filed a brief dissent, pointing out that the rule announced would seriously fetter legitimate law enforcement. Justice Stewart dissented, and argued that the right to counsel should not be attached until the onset of formal prosecutorial proceedings. Justice White also dissented, concluding that the Court had blurred the distinction between voluntary and involuntary confessions in concluding that this particular confession ran afoul of Constitutional protections.
Conclusion: Criminal defendants cannot be denied the right to consult with counsel. The right to counsel attaches once an individual is suspected and questioned, even prior to the commencement of formal legal proceedings. Refusal to allow access to counsel, coupled with failure to inform suspects of their right to remain silent, is a violation of 6th and 5th amendment protections respectively.