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Brewer v. Williams - 430 U.S. 387, 97 S. Ct. 1232 (1977)


In determining the question of waiver of counsel as a matter of federal constitutional law - it is incumbent upon the State to prove an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege. The right to counsel does not depend upon a request by a defendant, and courts indulge in every reasonable presumption against waiver. This strict standard applies equally to an alleged waiver of the right to counsel whether at trial or at a critical stage of pretrial proceedings.


Respondent Robert Williams was arrested, arraigned, and committed to jail in Davenport, Iowa, for abducting a 10-year-old girl in Des Moines, Iowa. Both his Des Moines lawyer and his lawyer at the Davenport arraignment advised respondent not to make any statements until after consulting with the Des Moines lawyer upon being returned to Des Moines, and the police officers who were to accompany respondent on the automobile drive back to Des Moines agreed not to question him during the trip. During the trip respondent expressed no willingness to be interrogated in the absence of an attorney but instead stated several times that he would tell the whole story after seeing his Des Moines lawyer. However, one of the police officers, who knew that respondent was a former mental patient and was deeply religious, sought to obtain incriminating remarks from respondent by stating to him during the drive that he felt they should stop and locate the girl's body because her parents were entitled to a Christian burial for the girl, who was taken away from them on Christmas Eve. Respondent eventually made several incriminating statements in the course of the trip and finally directed the police to the girl's body. Respondent was tried and convicted of murder, over his objections to the admission of evidence relating to or resulting from any statements he made during the automobile ride, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, holding, as did the trial court, that respondent had waived his constitutional right to the assistance of counsel. Respondent then petitioned for habeas corpus in Federal District Court, which held that the evidence in question had been wrongly admitted at respondent's trial on the ground, inter alia, that he had been denied his constitutional right to the assistance of counsel, and further ruled that he had not waived that right. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


By making incriminating statements to police officers while he was being transported from the city of arraignment to the city that was the scene of the crime and the location of the jail, did respondent, who police officers knew to be a mental patient and who was later convicted of the crime, waive his Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights to the assistance of counsel? 




On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed and held that respondent was entitled to a new trial because he was deprived of the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel, as judicial proceedings had been initiated against him before the start of the car ride, and the officer deliberately set out to elicit information from him when he was entitled to the assistance of counsel. The Court concluded that respondent did not waive his right to counsel because he consistently relied upon the advice of counsel in dealing with the authorities.

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