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Law School Case Brief

Illinois v. Perkins - 496 U.S. 292, 110 S. Ct. 2394 (1990)


Miranda warnings are not required when a suspect is unaware that he is speaking to a law enforcement officer and gives a voluntary statement.


An informer told the police that a particular suspect might be responsible for an unsolved Illinois murder, and the suspect was traced to an Illinois jail in which the suspect was being held pending trial on an aggravated-battery charge unrelated to the murder. The police placed an undercover agent in the jail with the suspect. Eventually, the agent, without giving the suspect Miranda warnings, engaged in conversations with the suspect, who made incriminating statements about the murder. The suspect was then charged with the murder, but the circuit court of St. Clair County (Illinois) granted the suspect's pretrial motion to suppress the statements made to the agent in the jail. On appeal, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District, affirmed, expressing the view that Miranda v Arizona (1966) 384 US 436, 16 L Ed 2d 694, 86 S Ct 1602, prohibited all undercover contacts which were reasonably likely to elicit incriminating responses from incarcerated suspects. Petitioner, the State of Illinois, was granted certiorari.


Should an undercover law enforcement officer, posing as a fellow inmate, be required to give Miranda warnings to an incarcerated suspect before engaging in a conversation that could elicit incriminating response from the incarcerated suspect?




On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The Court held that Miranda warnings were not required when the suspect was unaware that he was speaking to a law enforcement officer and gave a voluntary statement. The Court found that conversations between suspects and undercover agents did not implicate the concerns underlying Miranda. According to the Court, the essential ingredients of a police-dominated atmosphere and compulsion were not present when an incarcerated person spoke freely to someone he believed to be a fellow inmate. Coercion was to be determined from the perspective of the suspect. Ploys to mislead a suspect or lull him into a false sense of security that did not rise to the level of compulsion or coercion to speak were not within the concerns of Miranda warnings. The Court averred that Miranda was not meant to protect suspects from boasting about their criminal activities.

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