430 U.S. 387 (1977), 74-1263, Brewer v. Williams

Docket Nº:No. 74-1263
Citation:430 U.S. 387, 97 S.Ct. 1232, 51 L.Ed.2d 424
Party Name:Brewer v. Williams
Case Date:March 23, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 387

430 U.S. 387 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1232, 51 L.Ed.2d 424




No. 74-1263

United States Supreme Court

March 23, 1977

Argued October 4, 1976




Respondent was arrested, arraigned, and committed to jail in Davenport, Iowa, for abducting a 10-year-old girl in Des Moines, Iowa. Both his Des Moines lawyer and his lawyer at the Davenport arraignment advised respondent not to make any statements until after consulting with the Des Moines lawyer upon being returned to Des Moines, and the police officers who were to accompany respondent on the automobile drive back to Des Moines agreed not to question him during the trip. During the trip, respondent expressed no willingness to be interrogated in the absence of an attorney, but instead stated several times that he would tell the whole story after seeing his Des Moines lawyer. However, one of the police officers, who knew that respondent was a former mental patient and was deeply religious, sought to obtain incriminating remarks fro respondent by stating to him during the drive that he felt they should stop and locate the girl's body because her parents were entitled to a Christian burial for the girl, who was taken away from them on Christmas Eve. Respondent eventually made several incriminating statements in the course of the trip, and finally directed the police to the girl's body. Respondent was tried and convicted of murder, over his objections to the admission of evidence relating to or resulting from any statements he made during the automobile ride, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, holding, as did the trial court, that respondent had waived his constitutional right to the assistance of counsel. Respondent then petitioned for habeas corpus in Federal District Court, which held that the evidence in question had been wrongly admitted at respondent's trial on the ground, inter alia, that he had been denied his constitutional right to the assistance of counsel, and further ruled that he had not waived that right. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Petitioner warden claims that the District Court, in making its findings of fact, disregarded 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), which provides that, subject to certain exceptions, federal habeas corpus courts shall accept as correct the factual determinations made by state courts.


1. The District Court correctly applied 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) in its

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resolution of the disputed evidentiary facts where it appears that it made no findings of fact in conflict with those of the Iowa courts, and that its additional findings of fact based upon its examination of the state court record were conscientiously and carefully explained, and were approved by the Court of Appeals as being supported by the record. Pp. 395-397.

2. Respondent was deprived of his constitutional right to assistance of counsel. Pp. 397-401.

(a) The right to counsel granted by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments means at least that a person is entitled to a lawyer's help at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against him, and here there is no doubt that judicial proceedings had been initiated against respondent before the automobile trip started, since a warrant had been issued for his arrest, he had been arraigned, and had been committed to jail. Pp. 398-399.

(b) An individual against whom adversary proceedings have commenced has a right to legal representation when the [97 S.Ct. 1235] government interrogates him, Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201, and since here the police officer's "Christian burial speech" was tantamount to interrogation, respondent was entitled to the assistance of counsel at the time he made the incriminating statements. Pp. 399-401.

3. The circumstances of record provide, when viewed in light of respondent's assertions of his right to counsel, no reasonable basis for finding that respondent waived his right to the assistance of counsel, the record falling far short of sustaining the State's burden to prove "an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege," Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464. Pp. 401-406.

509 F.2d 227, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., post, p. 406, POWELL, J., post, p. 409, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 414, filed concurring opinions. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 415. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 429. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 438.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

An Iowa trial jury found the respondent, Robert Williams, guilty of murder. The judgment of conviction was affirmed in the Iowa Supreme Court by a closely divided vote. In a subsequent habeas corpus proceeding, a Federal District

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Court ruled that, under the United States Constitution, Williams is entitled to a new trial, and a divided Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed. The question before us is whether the District Court and the Court of Appeals were wrong.


On the afternoon of December 24, 1968, a 10-year-old girl named Pamela Powers went with her family to the YMCA in Des Moines, Iowa, to watch a wrestling tournament in which her brother was participating. When she failed to return from a trip to the washroom, a search for her began. The search was unsuccessful.

Robert Williams, who had recently escaped from a mental hospital, was a resident of the YMCA. Soon after the girl's disappearance, Williams was seen in the YMCA lobby carrying some clothing and a large bundle wrapped in a blanket. He obtained help from a 14-year-old boy in opening the street door of the YMCA and the door to his automobile parked outside. When Williams placed the bundle in the front seat of his car, the boy "saw two legs in it and they were skinny and white." Before anyone could see what was in the bundle, Williams drove away. His abandoned car was found the following day in Davenport, Iowa, roughly 160 miles east of Des Moines. A warrant was then issued in Des Moines for his arrest on a charge of abduction.

On the morning of December 26, a Des Moines lawyer named Henry McKnight went to the Des Moines police station and informed the officers present that he had just received a long-distance call from Williams, and that he had advised Williams to turn himself in to the Davenport police. Williams did surrender that morning to the police in Davenport, and they booked him on the charge specified in the arrest warrant and gave him the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. The Davenport police then telephoned

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their counterparts in Des Moines to inform them that Williams had surrendered. McKnight, the lawyer, was still at the Des Moines police headquarters, and Williams conversed with McKnight on the telephone. In the presence of the Des Moines chief of police and a police detective named Leaming, McKnight advised Williams that Des Moines police officers would be driving to Davenport to pick him up, that the officers would not interrogate him or mistreat him, and that Williams was not to talk to the officers about Pamela Powers until after consulting with McKnight upon his return to Des Moines. As a result of these conversations, [97 S.Ct. 1236] it was agreed between McKnight and the Des Moines police officials that Detective Leaming and a fellow officer would drive to Davenport to pick up Williams, that they would bring him directly back to Des Moines, and that they would not question him during the trip.

In the meantime, Williams was arraigned before a judge in Davenport on the outstanding arrest warrant. The judge advised him of his Miranda rights and committed him to jail. Before leaving the courtroom, Williams conferred with a lawyer named Kelly, who advised him not to make any statements until consulting with McKnight back in Des Moines.

Detective Leaming and his fellow officer arrived in Davenport about noon to pick up Williams and return him to Des Moines. Soon after their arrival, they met with Williams and Kelly, who, they understood, was acting as Williams' lawyer. Detective Leaming repeated the Miranda warnings, and told Williams:

[W]e both know that you're being represented here by Mr. Kelly and you're being represented by Mr. McKnight in Des Moines, and . . . I want you to remember this because we'll be visiting between here and Des Moines.

Williams then conferred again with Kelly alone, and, after this conference, Kelly reiterated to Detective Leaming that

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Williams was not to be questioned about the disappearance of Pamela Powers until after he had consulted with McKnight back in Des Moines. When Leaming expressed some reservations, Kelly firmly stated that the agreement with McKnight was to be carried out -- that there was to be no interrogation of Williams during the automobile journey to Des Moines. Kelly was denied permission to ride in the police car back to Des Moines with Williams and the two officers.

The two detectives, with Williams in their charge, then set out on the 160-mile drive. At no time during the trip did Williams express a willingness to be interrogated in the absence of an attorney. Instead, he stated several times that "[w]hen I get to Des Moines and see Mr. McKnight, I am going to tell you the whole story." Detective Leaming knew that Williams was a former mental patient, and knew also that he was deeply religious.

The detective and his prisoner soon embarked on a wide-ranging conversation covering a variety of topics, including the subject of religion. Then, not long after leaving Davenport and reaching the interstate highway, Detective Leaming delivered...

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