474 U.S. 159 (1985), 84-786, Maine v. Moulton

Docket Nº:No. 84-786
Citation:474 U.S. 159, 106 S.Ct. 477, 88 L.Ed.2d 481, 54 U.S.L.W. 4039
Party Name:Maine v. Moulton
Case Date:December 10, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 159

474 U.S. 159 (1985)

106 S.Ct. 477, 88 L.Ed.2d 481, 54 U.S.L.W. 4039




No. 84-786

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 10, 1985

Argued October 8, 1985



Respondent, represented by retained counsel, pleaded not guilty in a Maine Superior Court to charges of theft by receiving of automotive vehicles and parts. Respondent's codefendant Colson informed the police that he had received anonymous threatening telephone calls regarding the pending charges, and indicated that he wished to talk to the police about the charges. Before meeting with the police, Colson met with respondent to plan for the upcoming trial, and, according to Colson, respondent suggested the possibility of killing a State's witness. Thereafter, Colson and his lawyer met with police officers, and Colson confessed to his participation with respondent in committing the crimes for which they had been indicted and agreed to testify against respondent and cooperate in the prosecution of respondent on the pending charges if no further charges were brought against Colson. Colson also consented to have a recording device placed on his telephone, and agreed to record any anonymous threats or any calls from respondent. Having learned from recorded telephone calls that Colson and respondent were going to meet to plan defense strategy for the upcoming trial, the police obtained Colson's consent to be equipped with a body wire transmitter to record the meeting. Although Colson was instructed not to attempt to question respondent at the meeting, his remarks in fact caused respondent to make incriminating statements. The trial court denied respondent's pretrial motion to suppress the recorded statements he made to Colson as having been obtained in violation of respondent's right to the assistance of counsel under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments on the ground that the recordings were made for other reasons. Some of respondent's recorded incriminating statements made at the meeting with Colson were admitted in evidence, and respondent was convicted of some of the charges. The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Held: Respondent's Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel was violated by the admission at trial of incriminating statements made by him to Colson after indictment and at the meeting of the two to plan defense strategy for the upcoming trial. Pp. 168-180.

(a) The assistance of counsel is necessary to safeguard the other procedural safeguards provided to the accused by the criminal justice process. Accordingly, the right to the assistance of counsel is not limited to

Page 160

participation in a trial; to deprive a person of counsel during the period prior to trial may be more damaging than denial of counsel during the trial itself. Whatever else it may mean, the right to counsel means at least that a person is entitled to the help of a lawyer at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against him. Pp. 168-170.

(b) Once the right to counsel has attached and been asserted, the State must honor it. At the very least, the prosecutor and police have an affirmative obligation not to act in a manner that circumvents and thereby dilutes the protection afforded by the right to counsel. Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315; Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201; United States v. Henry, 447 U.S. 264. Pp. 170-174.

(c) The State misreads Massiah, supra, and Henry, supra, in contending that the decisive fact in those cases was that the police set up the confrontation between the accused and a police agent at which incriminating statements were elicited, and that, thus, respondent's Sixth Amendment rights were not violated here because, he rather than Colson, initiated the recorded conversations. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused, at least after the initiation of formal charges, the right to rely on counsel as a "medium" between him and the State. Knowing exploitation by the State of an opportunity to confront the accused without counsel being present is as much a breach of the State's obligation not to circumvent the right to the assistance of counsel as is the intentional creation of such an opportunity. Pp. 174-176.

(d) In this case, the State clearly violated respondent's Sixth Amendment right when it arranged to record conversations between respondent and its undercover informant, Colson. When the police requested that Colson wear a body wire transmitter to the meeting with respondent, the police knew that respondent would make statements that he had a constitutional right not to make to their agent prior to consulting with counsel. By concealing the fact that Colson was an agent of the State, the police denied respondent the opportunity to consult with counsel, and thus denied him the assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Pp. 176-177.

(e) There is no merit to the argument that the incriminating statements obtained by the police should not be suppressed because the police had other, legitimate reasons for listening to respondent's conversations with Colson, namely, to investigate respondent's alleged plan to kill the State's witness and to insure Colson's safety. This same argument was rejected in Massiah, supra, where the Court held that to allow the admission of evidence obtained from the accused in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights whenever the police assert the need to investigate other crimes to justify their surveillance invites abuse by law enforcement personnel in the form of fabricated investigations and risks the

Page 161

evisceration of the Sixth Amendment right. Evidence obtained that is relevant to crimes as to which the Sixth Amendment right has not yet attached may be admissible at a trial on those charges. Pp. 178-180.

481 A.2d 155, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL,BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 181.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is whether respondent's Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel was violated by the admission at trial of incriminating statements made by him to his codefendant, a secret government informant, after indictment and at a meeting of the two to plan defense strategy for the upcoming trial.


On the night of January 15, 1981, police officers in Belfast, Maine, responded to a fire call in the vicinity of the Belfast Dodge automobile dealership. Arriving at the scene, the officers discovered a burning Chevrolet dump truck which they recognized as a vehicle that had [106 S.Ct. 480] been reported stolen.1

Page 162

After examining the burning truck, the officers searched a building located on the Belfast Dodge property. This building was not part of the dealership, but was leased to respondent Perley Moulton and his codefendant Gary Colson, who were using the space to restore and sell old Ford Mustangs. Inside, the officers discovered evidence of several recent automobile and automobile-related thefts.

On April 7, 1981, a Waldo County grand jury returned indictments charging Moulton and Colson with four counts of theft by receiving in violation of Me.Rev.Stat.Ann., Tit.17-A, § 359 (1983). Specifically, the indictments alleged that Moulton and Colson received, retained, or disposed of a 1978 Ford pickup truck, a 1978 Chevrolet dump truck, a 1970 Ford Mustang automobile, and assorted Ford Motor Company automotive parts knowing these to be stolen and intending to deprive the owners of possession. On April 9, Moulton and Colson, represented by retained counsel, appeared before the Maine Superior Court for Waldo County and entered pleas of not guilty. Both were enlarged on bail pending trial. Numerous proceedings, unnecessary to detail here, occurred during the ensuing year and a half.

On November 4, 1982, Colson complained by telephone to Robert Keating, Chief of the Belfast Police Department, that he had received anonymous threatening telephone calls regarding the charges pending against him and Moulton, and indicated that he wished to talk to the police about the charges. Keating told Colson to speak with his lawyer and to call back.

On November 6, Colson met with Moulton at a Belfast restaurant to plan for their upcoming trial. According to Colson, Moulton suggested the possibility of killing Gary Elwell, a State's witness, and they discussed how to commit the murder.

On November 9 and 10, Colson, accompanied by his lawyer, met with Police Chief Keating and State Police Detective Rexford Kelley. At these meetings, Colson gave full

Page 163

confessions of his participation with Moulton in committing the crimes for which they had been indicted. In addition, Colson admitted that he and Moulton had not merely received stolen automotive parts, but also had broken into the local Ford dealership to steal the parts. Colson also stated that he and Moulton had set fire to the dump truck and had committed other thefts. The officers offered Colson a deal: no further charges would be brought against him if he would testify against Moulton and otherwise cooperate in the prosecution of Moulton on the pending charges. Colson agreed to cooperate.2

Colson also discussed with Keating and Kelley the anonymous threats he had received and Moulton's inchoate plan to kill Gary Elwell. Keating requested, and Colson consented, to have a recording device placed on Colson's telephone. Colson was instructed to turn the recording device on whenever he received a telephone call, but to turn it off immediately unless it was a threat from the anonymous caller or a call from Moulton.

The recording device was on...

To continue reading