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Law School Case Brief

Berghuis v. Thompkins - 560 U.S. 370, 130 S. Ct. 2250 (2010)


Even absent the accused's invocation of the right to remain silent, the accused's statement during a custodial interrogation is inadmissible at trial unless the prosecution can establish that the accused in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived Miranda rights when making the statement. The waiver inquiry has two distinct dimensions: waiver must be voluntary in the sense that it was the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception, and made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it. Some language in Miranda could be read to indicate that waivers are difficult to establish absent an explicit written waiver or a formal, express oral statement. Miranda said a valid waiver will not be presumed simply from the silence of the accused after warnings are given or simply from the fact that a confession was in fact eventually obtained. In addition, the Miranda Court stated that a heavy burden rests on the government to demonstrate that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to retained or appointed counsel.


After advising respondent Thompkins of his rights, in full compliance with Miranda v. Arizona, Detective Helgert and another Michigan officer interrogated him about a shooting in which one victim died. At no point did Thompkins say that he wanted to remain silent, that he did not want to talk with the police, or that he wanted an attorney. He was largely silent during the three-hour interrogation, but near the end, he answered “yes” when asked if he prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting. He moved to suppress his statements, claiming that he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, that he had not waived that right, and that his inculpatory statements were involuntary. The trial court denied the motion. At trial on first-degree murder and other charges, the prosecution called Eric Purifoy, who drove the van in which Thompkins and a third accomplice were riding at the time of the shooting, and who had been convicted of firearm offenses but acquitted of murder and assault. Thompkins' defense was that Purifoy was the shooter. Purifoy testified that he did not see who fired the shots. During closing arguments, the prosecution suggested that Purifoy lied about not seeing the shooter and pondered whether Purifoy's jury had made the right decision. Defense counsel did not ask the court to instruct the jury that it could consider evidence of the outcome of Purifoy's trial only to assess his credibility, not to establish Thompkins' guilt. The jury found Thompkins guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In denying his motion for a new trial, the trial court rejected as nonprejudicial his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim for failure to request a limiting instruction about the outcome of Purifoy's trial. On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected both Thompkins' Miranda and his ineffective-assistance claims. The federal District Court denied his subsequent habeas petition, reasoning that Thompkins did not invoke his right to remain silent and was not coerced into making statements during the interrogation, and that it was not unreasonable, for purposes of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), for the State Court of Appeals to determine that he had waived his right to remain silent. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the state court was unreasonable in finding an implied waiver of Thompkins' right to remain silent and in rejecting his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim.


Did Thompkins waive his right to remain silent when he knowingly and voluntarily made an uncoerced statement to police?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case with instructions to deny Thompkins' petition for habeas corpus relief. The Court ruled that the state court's decision rejecting Thompkins' Miranda claim was correct under de novo review and therefore necessarily reasonable under the AEDPA's more deferential standard of review. 

If the State establishes that a Miranda warning was given and that it was understood by the accused, an accused's uncoerced statement establishes an implied waiver. The Court found that Thompkins waived his right to remain silent when he knowingly and voluntarily made a statement to police. First, the lack of any contention that he did not understand his rights indicated that he knew what he gave up when he spoke. Second, his answer to the question about God is a “course of conduct indicating waiver” of that right. Third, there was no evidence that his statement was coerced. He did not claim that police threatened or injured him or that he was fearful. The fact that Thompkins made the statement about three hours after receiving a Miranda warning did not overcome the fact that he engaged in a course of conduct indicating waiver. 

The second was whether Thompkins' counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to request a limiting instruction regarding how the jury could consider the outcome of Purifoy's trial. It seemed doubtful that failure to request the instruction about the earlier acquittal or conviction was deficient representation; but even on the assumption that it was, on this record Thompkins cannot show prejudice. The jury was instructed to weigh all of the evidence in determining whether there was guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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