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Law School Case Brief

Riley v. United States - 923 A.2d 868 (D.C. 2007)


Rule 1: A person's Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches only at or after the time that adversary judicial proceedings have been initiated against that person by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information or arraignment.






Rule 2: Custodial interrogation must cease if, at any time during the questioning, the suspect clearly and explicitly requests an attorney. If the suspect clearly requests an attorney, interrogation may lawfully resume only if the suspect initiates further communication, exchanges or conversations with the police. However, if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel, judicial precedents do not require the cessation of questioning. Police officers have no duty to clarify ambiguous statements that might arguably contain a request for an attorney. A court, moreover, must consider the totality of the circumstances to ascertain whether the accused in fact knowingly and voluntarily decided to forgo his or her rights to remain silent and to have the assistance of counsel.


Rule 3: When determining whether a confession expressly implicates a co-defendant, courts should restrict their examination to determining whether the confession is incriminating on its face and should not consider whether it is incriminating when linked with evidence introduced later at trial. Inferences that are considered offensive to Bruton's principles are those that allow the jury to infer from the redactions themselves that the co-defendant was a part of the criminal enterprise, even were the confession the very first item introduced at trial, such as using the word "deleted" instead of a specific individual's name, which obviously refers directly to someone.




Police arrested defendants in relation to the murder of two brothers. During the initial interrogation, first defendant answered the waiver form and checked "no" in the box next to the question "Do you want to make a statement at this time without a lawyer?". Each defendant stated that they did not want to make a “statement” but that they would talk to the police. Each defendant gave a statement implicating himself and his two co-defendants in the shooting. In the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, first and second defendants were convicted of two counts of first-degree murder while armed, one count of assault with intent to kill while armed, and one count of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence. The third was convicted of the same offenses, plus one count each of unauthorized use of a vehicle and destruction of property. Defendants appealed. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.


Issue one: Did first defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel attach when he was arrested because the government had filed a criminal complaint charging him with murder in order to obtain an arrest warrant? 


Issue two: Did first defendant, who was under custodial investigation, invoke his Fifth Amendment right to counsel by indicating on a waiver form that he did not want to make a statement without a lawyer?


Issue three: Was defendants’ right to confrontation violated by the admission of their co-defendants' confessions?


Answer 1: No; Answer 2: No; Answer 3: No.


Conclusion 1: The filing of the complaint containing criminal charges in order to obtain an arrest warrant did not give rise to first defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the time of his arrest, as no adversary judicial criminal proceedings were initiated. Accordingly, first defendant could not argue that he should have been informed that a lawyer had telephoned the police station on his behalf before any attempt at questioning was made.


Conclusion 2: First defendant did not invoke his Fifth Amendment right to counsel by indicating that he did not want to make a statement without a lawyer on a waiver form, particularly in light of his further clarification of the choice in which first defendant stated that he did not want to make a written statement but was willing to talk to police.


Conclusion 3: There was no violation of defendants’ right to confrontation by the admission of their co-defendants' confessions, as the confessions were properly redacted and limiting instructions were provided to the jury.



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