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Law School Case Brief

Colorado v. Spring - 479 U.S. 564, 107 S. Ct. 851 (1987)


The United States Supreme Court has never held that mere silence by law enforcement officials as to the subject matter of an interrogation is "trickery" sufficient to invalidate a suspect's waiver of Miranda rights.


In February 1979, John Leroy Spring and a companion shot and killed Walker during a hunting trip in Colorado. Thereafter, based on information received from an informant as to Spring’s involvement in the interstate transportation of stolen firearms, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) set up an undercover purchase of firearms from Spring, and on March 30, 1979, arrested him. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Spring signed a statement that he understood and waived his rights and was willing to answer questions. The agents then questioned him about the firearms transactions that led to his arrest and also asked him whether he had ever shot anyone, to which he answered that he had "shot another guy once." But when asked whether he had shot a man named Walker, he said "no." On May 26, 1979, Colorado law enforcement officers gave Spring Miranda warnings, and he again signed a statement that he understood his rights and was willing to waive them. He then confessed to the Colorado murder and signed a statement to that effect. Upon being charged in a Colorado state court with first-degree murder, Spring moved to suppress both the March 30 and May 26 statements on the ground that his waiver of Miranda rights was invalid. The trial court held that the ATF agents' failure to inform Spring before the March 30 interview that they would question him about the Colorado murder did not affect the waiver and that therefore the March 30 statement should not be suppressed. But, while ruling that the March 30 statement was inadmissible on other grounds, the court held that the May 26 statement was made freely, voluntarily, and intelligently and should not be suppressed, and hence, admitted it in evidence, and Spring was convicted. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Spring’s waiver of his Miranda rights before the March 30 statement was invalid because he was not informed that he would be questioned about the Colorado murder, and that the State had failed to prove the May 26 statement was not the product of the prior illegal statement. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Spring’s confession to the murder should have been suppressed because it was the illegal "fruit" of the March 30 statement. The State of Colorado petitioned for certiorari review.


Was Spring’s waiver of his Miranda rights invalid under U.S. Const. amend. V on the ground that the agents failed to disclose all possible charges against Spring or all the possible consequences of the waiver?




The United States Supreme Court overruled the judgment of the state supreme court. The Court held that the Fifth Amendment did not require ATF agents to warn Spring of a possible murder charge before he waived his Miranda rights. The Court found that Spring knowingly waived his Miranda rights since he knew what his right were, including the right to discontinue talking at any time. Thus, his waiver of his Miranda rights was valid.

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