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Law School Case Brief

Fellers v. United States - 540 U.S. 519, 124 S. Ct. 1019 (2004)


The deliberate-elicitation standard in Sixth Amendment cases has been expressly distinguished by the United States Supreme Court from the Fifth Amendment custodial-interrogation standard. The Sixth Amendment provides a right to counsel even when there is no interrogation and no Fifth Amendment applicability. The definitions of interrogation under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, if indeed the term interrogation is even apt in the Sixth Amendment context, are not necessarily interchangeable. The Sixth Amendment provides the right to counsel at a post-indictment lineup even though the Fifth Amendment is not implicated.


After a grand jury had indicted an accused for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, two police officers went to the home of defendant John J. Fetters to arrest him. The officers, upon arriving at the home, informed defendant that their purpose in coming was to discuss his involvement in the distribution of methamphetamine and his association with certain charged coconspirators. In an ensuing discussion, defendant made several inculpatory statements. The officers transported defendant to a county jail, where the officers advised the accused for the first time of his rights under Miranda v Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, and under Patterson v Illinois (1988) 487 U.S. 285, 108 S. Ct. 2389, 101 L. Ed. 2d 261, which held that the Federal Constitution's Sixth Amendment did not bar the postindictment questioning of a defendant in the absence of counsel if the defendant waives the right to counsel. Defendant and the two officers signed a Miranda waiver form, and defendant then reiterated the inculpatory statements that he had made at home. Before trial in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, defendant moved to suppress the statements that he had made at home and at the county jail. The district court suppressed the at-home statements; but admitted the jailhouse statements, on the ground that defendant had knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights before making those statements. Defendant was subsequently convicted of conspiracy. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction, concluding that the officers' failure to administer Miranda warnings at defendant's home did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, as the officers had not interrogated defendant there. Moreover, the appellate court held that the jailhouse statements had been properly admitted in light of defendant's knowing and voluntary waiver of the right to counsel. The United States Supreme Court granted defendant's petition for certiorari review.


  1. Did the officers’ failure to administer Miranda warnings at defendant’s home violate his Sixth Amendment right to counsel?
  2. Were the jailhouse statements properly admitted as evidence?


1) Yes. 2) No.


The Court held that the officers “deliberately elicited” information from defendant at his home. Because their discussion took place after defendant had been indicted, outside the presence of counsel, and in the absence of any waiver of his Sixth Amendment rights, the officer’s actions violated the Sixth Amendment standards established in Massiah v. United States, and its progeny. Because of its erroneous determination that defendant was not questioned in violation of Sixth Amendment standards, the Eighth Circuit improperly conducted its “fruits” analysis under the Fifth Amendment. Instead of analyzing whether the Sixth Amendment required suppression of those statements on the ground that they were the fruits of previous questioning that violated the Sixth Amendment deliberate-elicitation standard, the trial court applied the doctrine enunciated in Oregon v. Elstad, analyzing such statements only on the basis of their voluntariness. As such, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment. Because the Eighth Circuit did not have occasion to decide whether the rationale of Elstad applied when a suspect made incriminating statements after a knowing and voluntary waiver of his right to counsel notwithstanding earlier police questioning in violation of Sixth Amendment standards, the case was remanded to the Court of Appeals to address that issue.

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