470 U.S. 298 (1985), 83-773, Oregon v. Elstad

Docket Nº:No. 83-773
Citation:470 U.S. 298, 105 S.Ct. 1285, 84 L.Ed.2d 222, 53 U.S.L.W. 4244
Party Name:Oregon v. Elstad
Case Date:March 04, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 298

470 U.S. 298 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 1285, 84 L.Ed.2d 222, 53 U.S.L.W. 4244




No. 83-773

United States Supreme Court

March 4, 1985

Argued October 3, 1984



When officers of the Polk County, Ore., Sheriff's Office picked up respondent at his home as a suspect in a burglary, he made an incriminating statement without having been given the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. After he was taken to the station house, and after he was advised of and waived his Miranda rights, respondent executed a written confession. In respondent's subsequent prosecution for burglary, the state trial court excluded from evidence his first statement because he had not been given Miranda warnings, but admitted the written confession. Respondent was convicted, but the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the confession should also have been excluded. The court concluded that, because of the brief period separating respondent's initial, unconstitutionally obtained statement and his subsequent confession, the "cat was sufficiently out of the bag to exert a coercive impact" on respondent's confession, rendering it inadmissible.

Held: The Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not require the suppression of a confession, made after proper Miranda warnings and a valid waiver of rights, solely because the police had obtained an earlier voluntary but unwarned admission from the suspect. Pp. 303-318.

(a) A procedural Miranda violation differs in significant respects from violations of the Fourth Amendment, which have traditionally mandated a broad application of the "fruits" doctrine that requires exclusion as "fruit of the poisonous tree" of evidence discovered as a result of an unconstitutional search. The Fifth Amendment prohibits use by the prosecution in its case in chief only of compelled testimony, and failure to administer Miranda warnings creates a presumption of compulsion, requiring that unwarned statements that are otherwise voluntary within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment be excluded from evidence. But the Miranda presumption does not require that fruits of otherwise voluntary statements be discarded as inherently tainted. It is an unwarranted extension of Miranda to hold that a simple failure to administer the warnings, unaccompanied by any actual coercion or other circumstances calculated to undermine the suspect's ability to exercise his free will, so taints the investigatory process that a subsequent voluntary and informed waiver is ineffective for some indeterminate period. Pp. 304-309.

Page 299

(b) The failure of police to administer Miranda warnings does not mean that the statements received have actually been coerced, but only that courts will presume the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination has not been intelligently exercised. Absent deliberate coercion or improper [105 S.Ct. 1288] tactics in obtaining an unwarned statement, a careful and thorough administration of Miranda warnings cures the condition that rendered the unwarned statement inadmissible. The warnings convey the relevant information, and thereafter the suspect's choice whether to exercise his privilege to remain silent should ordinarily be viewed as an act of free will. Endowing the psychological effects of voluntary unwarned admissions -- such as the psychological impact of the suspect's conviction that he has "let the cat out of the bag" -- with constitutional implications would, practically speaking, disable the police from obtaining the suspect's informed cooperation even when the official coercion proscribed by the Fifth Amendment played no part in either his warned or unwarned confessions. Pp. 309-314.

(c) Respondent knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to remain silent before he executed his written confession, and his earlier statement was voluntary, within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment. Neither the environment nor the manner of either "interrogation" was coercive. To impose a requirement, suggested by respondent, that he should also have been given an additional warning at the station house that his prior statement could not be used against him, is neither practicable nor constitutionally necessary. Pp. 314-317.

(d) The dictates of Miranda and the goals of the Fifth Amendment proscription against use of compelled testimony are fully satisfied in the circumstances of this case by barring use of the unwarned statement in the case in chief. No further purpose is served by imputing "taint" to subsequent statements obtained pursuant to a voluntary and knowing waiver. Pp. 317-318.

61 Ore. App. 673, 658 P.2d 552, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 318. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 364.

Page 300

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to decide whether an initial failure of law enforcement officers to administer the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), without more, "taints" subsequent admissions made after a suspect has been fully advised of and has waived his Miranda rights. Respondent, Michael James Elstad, was convicted of burglary by an Oregon trial court. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent's signed confession, although voluntary, was rendered inadmissible by a prior remark made in response to questioning without benefit of Miranda warnings. We granted certiorari, 465 U.S. 1078 (1984), and we now reverse.


In December, 1981, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Gross, in the town of Salem, Polk County, Ore., was burglarized. Missing were art objects and furnishings valued at $150,000. A witness to the burglary contacted the Polk County Sheriff's Office, implicating respondent Michael Elstad, an 18-year-old neighbor and friend of the Grosses' teenage son. Thereupon, Officers Burke and McAllister went to the home of respondent Elstad, with a warrant for his arrest. Elstad's mother answered the door. She led the officers to her son's room, where he lay on his bed, clad in shorts and listening to his stereo. The officers asked him to get dressed and to accompany them into the living room. Officer McAllister asked respondent's mother to step into the kitchen, where he explained that they had a warrant for her

Page 301

son's arrest for the burglary of a neighbor's residence. Officer Burke remained with Elstad in the living room. He later testified:

I sat down with Mr. Elstad and I asked him if he was aware of why Detective McAllister and myself were there to talk [105 S.Ct. 1289] with him. He stated no, he had no idea why we were there. I then asked him if he knew a person by the name of Gross, and he said yes, he did, and also added that he heard that there was a robbery at the Gross house. And at that point, I told Mr. Elstad that I felt he was involved in that, and he looked at me and stated, "Yes, I was there."

App.19-20. The officers then escorted Elstad to the back of the patrol car. As they were about to leave for the Polk County Sheriff's office, Elstad's father arrived home and came to the rear of the patrol car. The officers advised him that his son was a suspect in the burglary. Officer Burke testified that Mr. Elstad became quite agitated, opened the rear door of the car and admonished his son: "I told you that you were going to get into trouble. You wouldn't listen to me. You never learn." Id. at 21.

Elstad was transported to the Sheriff's headquarters and, approximately one hour later, Officers Burke and McAllister joined him in McAllister's office. McAllister then advised respondent for the first time of his Miranda rights, reading from a standard card. Respondent indicated he understood his rights, and, having these rights in mind, wished to speak with the officers. Elstad gave a full statement, explaining that he had known that the Gross family was out of town, and had been paid to lead several acquaintances to the Gross residence and show them how to gain entry through a defective sliding glass door. The statement was typed, reviewed by respondent, read back to him for correction, initialed and signed by Elstad and both officers. As an afterthought, Elstad added and initialed the sentence, "After leaving the house, Robby & I went back to [the] van & Robby handed

Page 302

me a small bag of grass." App. 42. Respondent concedes that the officers made no threats or promises either at his residence or at the Sheriff's office.

Respondent was charged with first-degree burglary. He was represented at trial by retained counsel. Elstad waived his right to a jury, and his case was tried by a Circuit Court Judge. Respondent moved at once to suppress his oral statement and signed confession. He contended that the statement he made in response to questioning at his house "let the cat out of the bag," citing United States v. Bayer, 331 U.S. 532 (1947), and tainted the subsequent confession as "fruit of the poisonous tree," citing Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963). The judge ruled that the statement, "I was there," had to be excluded because the defendant had not been advised of his Miranda rights. The written confession taken after Elstad's arrival at the Sheriff's office, however, was admitted in evidence. The court found:

[H]is written statement was given freely, voluntarily and knowingly by the defendant after he had waived his right to remain silent and have counsel present, which waiver was evidenced by the card which the defendant had signed. [It] was not tainted in any way by the previous brief statement between the defendant and the Sheriff's Deputies that had arrested him.

App. 45. Elstad was...

To continue reading