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Law School Case Brief

North Carolina v. Butler - 441 U.S. 369, 99 S. Ct. 1755 (1979)


An express written or oral statement of waiver of the right to remain silent or of the right to counsel is usually strong proof of the validity of that waiver, but is not inevitably either necessary or sufficient to establish waiver. The question is not one of form, but rather whether the defendant in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived the rights delineated in the Miranda case. As was unequivocally said in Miranda, mere silence is not enough. That does not mean that a defendant's silence, coupled with an understanding of his rights and a course of conduct indicating waiver, may never support a conclusion that a defendant has waived his rights. The courts must presume that a defendant did not waive his rights; the prosecution's burden is great; but in at least some cases waiver can be clearly inferred from the actions and words of the person interrogated.


Respondent, Butler, while under arrest for certain crimes and after being advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, made incriminating statements to the arresting officers. His motion to suppress evidence of these statements on the ground that he had not waived his right to assistance of counsel at the time the statements were made was denied by a North Carolina trial court, and he was subsequently convicted. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed, holding that Miranda requires that no statement of a person under custodial interrogation may be admitted in evidence against him unless, at the time the statement was made, he explicitly waived the right to the presence of a lawyer.


Pursuant to a suspect’s rights under Miranda v. Arizona, must a person under custodial interrogation explicitly waive his right to assistance of counsel before any statement made by him be admissible in court?




According to the United States Supreme Court, an explicit statement of waiver is not invariably necessary to support a finding that a defendant waived the right to counsel guaranteed by the Miranda. The Court held that the question of waiver must be determined on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding the case, including the background, experience, and conduct of defendant.

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