441 U.S. 369 (1979), 78-354, North Carolina v. Butler

Docket Nº:No. 78-354
Citation:441 U.S. 369, 99 S.Ct. 1755, 60 L.Ed.2d 286
Party Name:North Carolina v. Butler
Case Date:April 24, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 369

441 U.S. 369 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 1755, 60 L.Ed.2d 286

North Carolina

v.

Butler

No. 78-354

United States Supreme Court

April 24, 1979

Argued March 27, 1979

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

Syllabus

Respondent, 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.

Held: An explicit statement of waiver is not invariably necessary to support a finding that the defendant waived the right to counsel guaranteed by the Miranda case. The question of waiver must be determined on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding the case, and there is no reason in a case such as this for a per se rule, such as that of the North Carolina Supreme Court. By creating an inflexible rule that no implicit waiver can ever suffice, that court has gone beyond the requirements of federal organic law, and thus its judgment cannot stand, since a state court can neither add to nor subtract from the mandates of the United States Constitution. Pp. 372-376.

295 N.C. 250, 244 S.E.2d 410, vacated and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKUN, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 376. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 377. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In evident conflict with the present view of every other court that has considered the issue, the North Carolina Supreme Court has held that Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 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. We granted certiorari to consider whether this per se rule reflects a proper understanding of the Miranda decision. 439 U.S. 1046.

The respondent was convicted in a North Carolina trial court of kidnaping, armed robbery, and felonious assault. The evidence at his trial showed that he and a man named Elmer Lee had robbed a gas station in Goldsboro, N.C., in December, 1976, and had shot the station attendant as he was attempting to escape. The attendant was paralyzed, but survived to testify against the respondent.

The prosecution also produced evidence of incriminating statements made by the respondent shortly after his arrest by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in the Bronx, N.Y., on the basis of a North Carolina fugitive warrant. Outside the presence of the jury, FBI Agent Martinez testified that, at the time of the arrest, he fully advised the respondent of the rights delineated in the Miranda case. According to the uncontroverted testimony of Martinez, the agents then took the respondent to the FBI office in nearby New Rochelle, N.Y. There, after the agents determined that the respondent had an 11th grade education and was literate, he was given the Bureau's "Advice of Rights" form,

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which he read.1 When asked if he understood his rights, he replied that he did. The respondent refused to sign the waiver at the bottom of the form. He was told that he need neither speak nor sign the form, but that the agents would like him to talk to them. The respondent replied: "I will talk to you, but I am not signing any form." He then made inculpatory statements.2 Agent Martinez testified that the respondent said nothing when advised of his right to the assistance of a lawyer. At no time did the respondent request counsel or attempt to terminate the agents' questioning.

At the conclusion of this testimony, the respondent moved to suppress the evidence of his incriminating statements on the ground that he had not waived his right to the assistance of counsel at the time the statements were made. The court denied the motion, finding that

the statement made by the defendant, William Thomas Butler, to Agent David C. Martinez, was made freely and voluntarily to said agent after having been advised of his rights as required by the Miranda ruling, including his right to an attorney being present at the time of the inquiry and that the defendant, Butler, understood his

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rights; [and] that he effectively waived his rights, including the right to have an attorney present during the questioning by his indication that he was willing to answer questions, having read the rights form, together with the Waiver of Rights. . . .

App. A-22 to A-23. The respondent's statements were then admitted into evidence, and the jury ultimately found the respondent guilty of each offense charged.

On [99 S.Ct. 1757] appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial. It found that the statements had been admitted in violation of the requirements of the Miranda decision, noting that the respondent had refused to waive in writing his right to have counsel present and that there had not been a specific oral waiver. As it had in at least two earlier cases, the court read the Miranda opinion as

provid[ing] in plain language that waiver of the right to counsel during interrogation will not be recognized unless such waiver is "specifically made" after the Miranda warnings have been given.

295 N.C. 250, 255, 244 S.E.2d 410, 413 (1978). See State v. Blackmon, 280 N.C. 42, 49-50, 185 S.E.2d 123, 127-128 (1971); State v. Thacker, 281 N.C. 447, 453-454, 189 S.E.2d 145, 149-150 (1972).3

We conclude that the North Carolina Supreme Court erred in its reading of the Miranda opinion. There, this Court said:

If the interrogation continues without the presence of an attorney and a statement is taken, a heavy burden

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rests on the government to demonstrate that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to retained or appointed counsel.

384 U.S. at 475. The Court's opinion went on to say:

An express statement that the individual is willing to make a statement and does not want an attorney. followed closely by a statement. could constitute a waiver. But a valid waiver will not be presumed simply from the silence of the accused after warnings are given, or simply from the fact that a confession was in fact eventually obtained.

Ibid. Thus, the Court held that an express statement can constitute a waiver, and that silence alone after such warnings cannot do so. But the Court did not hold that such an express statement is indispensable to a finding of waiver.

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 the defendant's silence, coupled with an understanding of his rights and a course of conduct indicating waiver, may never support a conclusion tlat 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.4

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The Court's opinion in Miranda explained the reasons for the prophylactic rules it created:

We [99 S.Ct. 1758] have concluded that, without proper safeguards, the process of in-custody interrogation of persons suspected or accused of crime contains inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely. In order to combat these pressures and to permit a full opportunity to exercise the privilege against self-incrimination, the accused must be adequately and effectively apprised of his rights and the exercise of those rights must be fully honored.

Id. at 467.

The per se rule that the North Carolina Supreme Court has found in Miranda does not speak to these concerns. There is no doubt that this respondent was adequately and effectively apprised of his rights. The only question is whether he waived the exercise of one of those rights, the right to the presence of a lawyer. Neither the state court nor the respondent has offered any reason why there must be a negative answer to that question in the absence of an express waiver. This is not the first criminal case to question whether a defendant waived his constitutional rights. It is an issue with which courts must repeatedly deal. Even when a right so fundamental as that to counsel at trial is involved, the question of waiver must be determined on

the particular facts and circumstances surrounding that case, including the background,

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experience, and conduct of the accused.

Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464. See also United States v. Washington, 431 U.S. 181, 188; Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218; Frazier v. Cupp, 394 U.S. 731, 739.

We see no reason to discard that...

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