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Law School Case Brief

Texas v. Cobb - 532 U.S. 162, 121 S. Ct. 1335 (2001)


The U.S. Const. amend. VI right to counsel is offense specific. It cannot be invoked once for all future prosecutions, for it does not attach until a prosecution is commenced, that is, at or after the initiation of adversary judicial criminal proceedings, whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment.


While under arrest for an unrelated offense, defendant Raymond Levi Cobb confessed to a home burglary, but denied knowledge of the disappearance of a woman and child from that home. He was indicted for the burglary, and counsel was appointed to represent him. He later confessed to his father that he had killed the woman and child, and his father then contacted the police. While in custody, Cobb waived his rights under Miranda v. Arizona and confessed to the murders. He was convicted in Texas state court of capital murder and sentenced to death. On appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, he argued, inter alia, that his confession should have been suppressed because it was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which he claimed attached when counsel was appointed in the burglary case. The court reversed and remanded the matter for a new trial, holding that once the right to counsel attached to the offense charged, it also attached to any other offense that was very closely related factually to the offense charged. The State was granted a writ of certiorari.


Did Cobb's right to counsel on the later murder charge attach when counsel was appointed in the prior burglary prosecution?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court held that, regardless of whether the murder charge was closely related factually to the burglary offense, the right to counsel was offense specific. Since the two offenses required different elements of proof, they were separate offenses, and prosecution was not initiated on the murder offense at the time of the interrogation. Cobb thus had no right to the presence of his previously appointed counsel during the interrogation concerning the murder charge, and the confession resulting from that interrogation was admissible.

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