467 U.S. 431 (1984), 82-1651, Nix v. Williams

Docket Nº:No. 82-1651
Citation:467 U.S. 431, 104 S.Ct. 2501, 81 L.Ed.2d 377
Party Name:Nix v. Williams
Case Date:June 11, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 431

467 U.S. 431 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 2501, 81 L.Ed.2d 377




No. 82-1651

United States Supreme Court

June 11, 1984

Argued January 18, 1984




Following the disappearance of a 10-year-old girl in Des Moines, Iowa, respondent was arrested and arraigned in Davenport, Iowa. The police informed respondent's counsel that they would drive respondent back to Des Moines without questioning him, but during the trip one of the officers began a conversation with respondent that ultimately resulted in his making incriminating statements and directing the officers to the child's body. A systematic search of the area that was being conducted with the aid of 200 volunteers, and that had been initiated before respondent made the incriminating statements, was terminated when respondent guided police to the body. Before trial in an Iowa state court for first-degree murder, the court denied [104 S.Ct. 2503] respondent's motion to suppress evidence of the body and all related evidence, including the body's condition as shown by an autopsy, respondent having contended that such evidence was the fruit of his illegally obtained statements made during the automobile ride. Respondent was convicted, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, but later federal court habeas corpus proceedings ultimately resulted in this Court's holding that the police had obtained respondent's incriminating statements through interrogation in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387. However, it was noted that, even though the statements could not be admitted at a second trial, evidence of the body's location and condition might be admissible on the theory that the body would have been discovered even if the incriminating statements had not been elicited from respondent. Id. at 407, n. 12. At respondent's second state court trial, his incriminating statements were not offered in evidence, nor did the prosecution seek to show that respondent had directed the police to the child's body. However, evidence concerning the body's location and condition was admitted, the court having concluded that the State had proved that, if the search had continued, the body would have been discovered within a short time in essentially the same condition as it was actually found. Respondent was again convicted of first-degree murder, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. In subsequent habeas corpus proceedings, the Federal District Court, denying relief, also concluded that the body inevitably would have been found. However, the

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Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, even assuming that there is an inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule -- the State had not met the exception's requirement that it be proved that the police did not act in bad faith.

Held: The evidence pertaining to the discovery and condition of the victim's body was properly admitted at respondent's second trial on the ground that it would ultimately or inevitably have been discovered even if no violation of any constitutional provision had taken place. Pp. 440-450.

(a) The core rationale for extending the exclusionary rule to evidence that is the fruit of unlawful police conduct is that such course is needed to deter police from violations of constitutional and statutory protections notwithstanding the high social cost of letting obviously guilty persons go unpunished. On this rationale, the prosecution is not to be put in a better position than it would have been in if no illegality had transpired. By contrast, the independent source doctrine -- allowing admission of evidence that has been discovered by means wholly independent of any constitutional violation -- rests on the rationale that society's interest in deterring unlawful police conduct and the public interest in having juries receive all probative evidence of a crime are properly balanced by putting the police in the same, not a worse, position that they would have been in if no police error or misconduct had occurred. Although the independent source doctrine does not apply here, its rationale is wholly consistent with, and justifies adoption of, the ultimate or inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule. If the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the information ultimately or inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means -- here the volunteers' search -- then the deterrence rationale has so little basis that the evidence should be received. Pp. 441-444.

(b) Under the inevitable discovery exception, the prosecution is not required to prove the absence of bad faith, since such a requirement would result in withholding from juries relevant and undoubted truth that would have been available to police absent any unlawful police activity. This would put the police in a worse position than they would have been in if no unlawful conduct had transpired, and would fail to take into account the enormous societal cost of excluding truth in the search for truth in the administration of justice. Significant [104 S.Ct. 2504] disincentives to obtaining evidence illegally -- including the possibility of departmental discipline and civil liability -- lessen the likelihood that the ultimate or inevitable discovery exception will promote police misconduct. Pp. 445-446.

(c) There is no merit to respondent's contention that, because he did not waive his right to the assistance of counsel, and because the Sixth Amendment exclusionary rule is designed to protect the right to a fair

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trial, competing values may not be balanced in deciding whether the challenged evidence was properly admitted. Exclusion of physical evidence that would inevitably have been discovered adds nothing to either the integrity or fairness of a criminal trial. Nor would suppression ensure fairness on the theory that it tends to safeguard the adversary system of justice. Pp. 446-448.

(d) The record here supports the finding that the search party ultimately or inevitably would have discovered the victim's body. The evidence clearly shows that the searchers were approaching the actual location of the body, that the search would have been resumed had respondent not led the police to the body, and that the body inevitably would have been found. Pp. 448-450.

700 F.2d 1164, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 450. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 451. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 458.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to consider whether, at respondent Williams' second murder trial in state court, evidence pertaining to the discovery and condition of the victim's body was properly admitted on the ground that it would ultimately or inevitably have been discovered even if no violation of any constitutional or statutory provision had taken place.



On December 24, 1968, 10-year-old Pamela Powers disappeared from a YMCA building in Des Moines, Iowa, where she had accompanied her parents to watch an athletic contest. Shortly after she disappeared, Williams was seen leaving the YMCA carrying a large bundle wrapped in a blanket; a 14-year-old boy who had helped Williams open his car door reported that he had seen "two legs in it and they were skinny and white."

Williams' car was found the next day 160 miles east of Des Moines in Davenport, Iowa. Later, several items of clothing belonging to the child, some of Williams' clothing, and an army blanket like the one used to wrap the bundle that Williams carried out of the YMCA were found at a rest stop on

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Interstate 80 near Grinnell, between Des Moines and Davenport. A warrant was issued for Williams' arrest.

Police surmised that Williams had left Pamela Powers or her body somewhere between Des Moines and the Grinnell rest stop where some of the young girl's clothing had been found. On December 26, the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation initiated a large-scale search. Two hundred volunteers divided into teams began the search 21 miles east of Grinnell, covering an area several miles to the north and south of Interstate 80. They moved westward from Poweshiek County, in which Grinnell was located, into Jasper County. Searchers were instructed to check all roads, abandoned farm buildings, ditches, culverts, and any other place in which the body of a small child could be hidden.

Meanwhile, Williams surrendered to local police in Davenport, where he was promptly arraigned. Williams contacted a Des Moines attorney, who arranged for an attorney in Davenport to meet Williams at the [104 S.Ct. 2505] Davenport police station. Des Moines police informed counsel they would pick Williams up in Davenport and return him to Des Moines without questioning him. Two Des Moines detectives then drove to Davenport, took Williams into custody, and proceeded to drive him back to Des Moines.

During the return trip, one of the policemen, Detective Leaming, began a conversation with Williams, saying:

I want to give you something to think about while we're traveling down the road. . . . They are predicting several inches of snow for tonight, and I feel that you yourself are the only person that knows where this little girl's body is . . . and if you get a snow on top of it, you yourself may be unable to find it. And since we will be going right past the area [where the body is] on the way into Des Moines, I feel that we could stop and locate the body, that the parents of this little girl should be entitled to a Christian burial for the little girl who was snatched away from...

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