465 U.S. 420 (1984), 82-827, Minnesota v. Murphy

Docket Nº:No. 82-827.
Citation:465 U.S. 420, 104 S.Ct. 1136, 79 L.Ed.2d 409
Party Name:MINNESOTA, Petitioner v. Marshall Donald MURPHY.
Case Date:February 22, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 420

465 U.S. 420 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 1136, 79 L.Ed.2d 409

MINNESOTA, Petitioner


Marshall Donald MURPHY.

No. 82-827.

United States Supreme Court.

Feb. 22, 1984

Argued Oct. 12, 1983.

Defendant was convicted in state court of first-degree murder, but conviction was reversed and remanded by the Minnesota Supreme Court, 324 N.W.2d 340. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve conflict. The Supreme Court, Justice White, held that: (1) on record, probationer was not deterred from claiming self-incrimination privilege by any reasonably perceived threat of revocation of probation; and (2) state may not impose substantial penalties because witness elects to exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to give incriminating testimony against himself, but state may require probationer to appear and discuss matters that affect his probationer's status, and such requirement, without more, does not give rise to self-executing privilege against self-incrimination; and (3) because probationer revealed incriminating information instead of timely asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege, his disclosures to his probation officer were not compelled incriminations, and same was true though the probation officer consciously sought incriminating evidence.


Justice Marshall dissented and filed opinion in which Justice Stevens joined, and in which Justice Brennan joined in part.

[104 S.Ct. 1138] Syllabus[*]


In 1980, respondent pleaded guilty to a sex-related charge in a Minnesota court, and was given a suspended prison sentence and placed on probation. The terms of his probation required him to participate in a treatment program for sexual offenders, to report to his probation officer periodically, and to be truthful with the officer "in all matters." During the course of a meeting with his probation officer, who had previously received information from a treatment counselor that respondent had admitted to a 1974 rape and murder, respondent, upon questioning, admitted that he had committed the rape and murder. After being indicted for first-degree murder, respondent sought to suppress the confession made to the probation officer on the ground that it was obtained in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Minnesota trial court found that respondent was not "in custody" at the time of the confession and that the confession was neither compelled nor involuntary despite the absence of Miranda warnings. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed, holding that, notwithstanding the lack of custody in the usual sense, respondent's failure to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when he was questioned was not fatal to his claim, because of the nature of his meeting with the probation officer, because he was under court order to respond truthfully, and because the probation officer had substantial reason to believe that respondent's answers were likely to be incriminating.

Held: The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments did not prohibit the introduction into evidence of respondent's admissions to the probation officer in respondent's subsequent murder prosecution. Pp. 1141 - 1149.

(a) The general obligation to appear before his probation officer and answer questions truthfully did not in itself convert respondent's otherwise voluntary statements into compelled ones. Pp. 1142 - 1143.

(b) A witness confronted with questions that the government should reasonably expect to elicit incriminating evidence ordinarily must assert the Fifth Amendment privilege rather than answer if he desires not to incriminate himself. If he chooses to answer rather than to assert the privilege, his choice is considered to be [104 S.Ct. 1139] voluntary since he was free to claim the privilege and would suffer no penalty as a result of his decision to do so. P. 1143.

(c) Respondent cannot claim the benefit of the "in custody" exception to the general rule that the Fifth Amendment privilege is not self-

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executing. It is clear that respondent was not "in custody" for purposes of receiving Miranda protection since there was no formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with formal arrest. The factors that the probation officer could compel respondent's attendance and truthful answers and consciously sought incriminating evidence, that respondent did not expect questions about prior criminal conduct and could not seek counsel before attending the meeting, and that there were no observers to guard against abuse or trickery, neither alone nor in combination, are sufficient to excuse respondent's failure to claim the privilege in a timely manner. Pp. 1143 - 1146.

(d) Nor was respondent deterred from claiming the privilege against self-incrimination by a reasonably perceived threat of revocation of his probation so as to render the privilege self-executing. The legal compulsion to attend the meeting with the probation officer and to answer truthfully the questions of the officer who anticipated incriminating answers is indistinguishable from that felt by any witness who is required to appear and give testimony, and is insufficient to excuse respondent's failure to exercise the privilege in a timely manner. Whether a subjective or objective test is applied, there is no reasonable basis for concluding that Minnesota attempted to attach an impermissible penalty to the exercise of the privilege. Pp. 1146 - 1149.

(e) As opposed to the cases involving federal taxes on gamblers where the Fifth Amendment privilege may be exercised by failing to file a tax return, since if the taxpayer claimed the privilege instead of filing a return he necessarily identifies himself as a gambler, a probationer confronted with incriminating questions ordinarily would have no problem effectively claiming the privilege at the time the disclosures are requested. There is therefore no reason to forgive the requirement that the privilege claim be presented for evaluation in a timely manner. P. 1149.

324 N.W.2d 340 (Minn.1982), reversed.


Robert H. Lynn argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief wasVernon E. Bergstrom.

David A. Strauss argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Jensen, and Deputy Solicitor General Frey.

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Mark S. Wernick argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.*

* A brief of amicus curiae urging affirmance was filed by Sheryl Joyce Lowenthal for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

A brief of amici curiae was filed by Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, andJames P. Manak for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., et al.

Robert H. Lynn, Minneapolis, Minn., for petitioner.

David A. Strauss, Washington, D.C., for the United States, as amicus curiae.

Mark S. Wernick, Minneapolis, Minn., for respondent.


Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, respondent Murphy, who was on probation, made incriminating admissions during a meeting with his probation officer. The issue before us is whether the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the introduction into evidence of the admissions in Murphy's subsequent criminal prosecution.


In 1974, Marshall Murphy was twice questioned by Minneapolis Police concerning the rape and murder of a teenage girl. No charges were then brought. In 1980, in connection with a prosecution for criminal sexual conduct arising out of an unrelated incident, Murphy pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of false imprisonment. He was sentenced to a prison term of 16 months, which was suspended, and three years' probation. The terms of Murphy's probation required, among other things, that he participate in a treatment program for sexual offenders at Alpha House, report to his probation officer as directed, and be truthful with the probation officer "in all matters." Failure to comply with these conditions, Murphy was informed, could result in his return to the sentencing court for a probation revocation hearing. App. to Pet. for Cert. C33-C35.

Murphy met with his probation officer at her office approximately once a month, and [104 S.Ct. 1140] his probation continued without incident until July 1981, when the officer learned that he had abandoned the treatment program. The probation officer

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then wrote to Murphy and informed him that failure to set up a meeting would "result in an immediate request for a warrant." Id., at C35. At a meeting in late July, the officer agreed not to seek revocation of probation for nonparticipation in the treatment program since Murphy was employed and doing well in other areas.

In September 1981, an Alpha House counselor informed the probation officer that, during the course of treatment, Murphy had admitted to a rape and murder in 1974. After discussions with her superior, the officer determined that the police should have this information. 1 She then wrote to Murphy and asked him to contact her to discuss a treatment plan for the remainder of his probationary period. 2 Although she did not contact the police before the meeting, the probation officer knew in advance that she would report any incriminating statements.

Upon receipt of the letter, Murphy arranged to meet with his probation officer in her office on September 28, 1981. The officer opened the meeting by telling Murphy about the information she had received from the Alpha House counselor

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and expressing her belief that this information evinced his continued need for treatment. Murphy became angry about what he considered to be a breach of his confidences and stated that he "felt like calling a lawyer." 3 The probation officer replied that Murphy would have to deal with that problem outside the office; for the moment, their primary concern was the relationship between the crimes that Murphy had...

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