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Law School Case Brief

Moran v. Burbine - 475 U.S. 412, 106 S. Ct. 1135 (1986)


The inquiry into waiver of Miranda rights has two distinct dimensions. First, the relinquishment of the right must have been voluntary in the sense that it was the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception. Second, the waiver must have been made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it. Only if the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation reveals both an uncoerced choice and the requisite level of comprehension may a court properly conclude that the Miranda rights have been waived. 


Defendant confessed to and was convicted of the murder of a young woman. Defendant then appealed his conviction, claiming his confessions should have been suppressed because the police deceived him by failing to inform him that a public defender had called to speak with him while he was in custody, but prior to arraignment. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the conviction, concluding that defendant's conviction based on an invalid waiver of defendant's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Petitioner Moran, Superintendent of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections sought further review by petition for writ of certiorari.


Did the failure of the police to inform a suspect in custody of defense counsel's efforts to reach him, as well as misinforming counsel that suspect would not be questioned, a violation of the waiver of self-incrimination privilege or violate the suspect's right to counsel or due process?




On review, the United States Supreme Court found that defendant at no time requested an attorney, and events occurring outside the presence of defendant and entirely unknown to him had no bearing on his capacity to comprehend and knowingly waive his rights. The Court held that once a person knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights, the waiver was valid as a matter of law. The failure of the police to inform the defendant of counsel's telephone call did not affect the validity of his waiver of the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to have counsel present during questioning, which depends only on a determination that the waiver was uncoerced, that the defendant was aware of these rights at all times, and that he was aware of the state's intention to use his statements to secure a conviction. The Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel, which bars any interference with defense counsel's efforts to act as a medium between the state and the defendant during questioning, does not attach until the first formal charging proceeding, and therefore, was not violated in this case; and the conduct of the police was not so offensive as to deprive the defendant of the fundamental fairness guaranteed by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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