496 U.S. 292 (1990), 88-1972, Illinois v. Perkins

Docket Nº:No. 88-1972
Citation:496 U.S. 292, 110 S.Ct. 2394, 110 L.Ed.2d 243, 58 U.S.L.W. 4737
Party Name:Illinois v. Perkins
Case Date:June 04, 1990
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 292

496 U.S. 292 (1990)

110 S.Ct. 2394, 110 L.Ed.2d 243, 58 U.S.L.W. 4737




No. 88-1972

United States Supreme Court

June 4, 1990

Argued Feb. 20, 1990




Police placed undercover agent Parisi in a jail cellblock with respondent Perkins, who was incarcerated on charges unrelated to the murder that Parisi was investigating. When Parisi asked him if he had ever killed anybody, [110 S.Ct. 2395] Perkins made statements implicating himself in the murder. He was then charged with the murder. The trial court granted respondent's motion to suppress his statements on the ground that Parisi had not given him the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, before their conversations. The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed, holding that Miranda prohibits all undercover contacts with incarcerated suspects that are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.

Held: An undercover law enforcement officer posing as a fellow inmate need not give Miranda warnings to an incarcerated suspect before asking questions that may elicit an incriminating response. The Miranda doctrine must be enforced strictly, but only in situations where the concerns underlying that decision are present. Those concerns are not implicated here, since the essential ingredients of a "police dominated atmosphere" and compulsion are lacking. It is Miranda's premise that the danger of coercion results from the interaction of custody and official interrogation, whereby the suspect may feel compelled to speak by the fear of reprisal for remaining silent or in the hope of more lenient treatment should he confess. That coercive atmosphere is not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone whom he believes to be a fellow inmate and whom he assumes is not an officer having official power over him. In such circumstances, Miranda does not forbid mere strategic deception by taking advantage of a suspect's misplaced trust. The only difference between this case and Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293 -- which upheld the placing of an undercover agent near a suspect in order to gather incriminating information -- is that Perkins was incarcerated. Detention, however, whether or not for the crime in question, does not warrant a presumption that such use of an undercover agent renders involuntary the incarcerated suspect's resulting confession. Mathis v. United States, 391 U.S. 1 -- which held that an inmate's statements to a known agent were inadmissible because no Miranda warnings were given -- is distinguishable. Where the suspect does not

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know that he is speaking to a government agent, there is no reason to assume the possibility of coercion. Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201, and similar cases -- which held that the government may not use an undercover agent to circumvent the Sixth Amendment right to counsel once a suspect has been charged -- are inapplicable, since, here, no murder charges had been filed at the time of interrogation. Also unavailing is Perkins' argument that a bright-line rule for the application of Miranda is desirable, since law enforcement officers will have little difficulty applying the holding of this case. Pp. 296-300.

176 Ill.App.3d 443, 126 Ill.Dec. 8, 531 N.E.2d 141 (1988), reversed and remanded.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 300. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 303.

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KENNEDY, J., lead opinion


Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

An undercover government agent was placed in the cell of respondent Perkins, who was incarcerated on charges unrelated to the subject of the agent's investigation. Respondent made statements that implicated him in the crime that the agent sought to solve. Respondent claims that the statements should [110 S.Ct. 2396] be inadmissible because he had not been given Miranda warnings by the agent. We hold that the statements are admissible. Miranda warnings are not required when the suspect is unaware that he is speaking to a law enforcement officer, and gives a voluntary statement.


In November, 1984, Richard Stephenson was murdered in a suburb of East St. Louis, Illinois. The murder remained unsolved until March, 1986, when one Donald Charlton told police that he had learned about a homicide from a fellow inmate at the Graham Correctional Facility, where Charlton had been serving a sentence for burglary. The fellow inmate was Lloyd Perkins, who is the respondent here. Charlton told police that, while at Graham, he had befriended respondent, who told him in detail about a murder that respondent had committed in East St. Louis. On hearing Charlton's account, the police recognized details of the Stephenson murder that were not well known, and so they treated Charlton's story as a credible one.

By the time the police heard Charlton's account, respondent had been released from Graham, but police traced him to a jail in Montgomery County, Illinois, where he was being held pending trial on a charge of aggravated battery, unrelated to the Stephenson murder. The police wanted to investigate further respondent's connection to the Stephenson murder, but feared that the use of an eavesdropping device would prove impracticable and unsafe. They decided instead to place an undercover agent in the cellblock with respondent and Charlton. The plan was for Charlton and undercover

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agent John Parisi to pose as escapees from a work release program who had been arrested in the course of a burglary. Parisi and Charlton were instructed to engage respondent in casual conversation and report anything he said about the Stephenson murder.

Parisi, using the alias "Vito Bianco," and Charlton, both clothed in jail garb, were placed in the cellblock with respondent at the Montgomery County jail. The cellblock consisted of 12 separate cells that opened onto a common room. Respondent greeted Charlton who, after a brief conversation with respondent, introduced Parisi by his alias. Parisi told respondent that he "wasn't going to do any more time," and suggested that the three of them escape. Respondent replied that the Montgomery County jail was "rinky-dink," and that they could "break out." The trio met in respondent's cell later that evening, after the other inmates were asleep, to refine their plan. Respondent said that his girlfriend could smuggle in a pistol. Charlton said "Hey, I'm not a murderer, I'm a burglar. That's your guys' profession." After telling Charlton that he would be responsible for any murder that occurred, Parisi asked respondent if he had ever "done" anybody. Respondent said that he had, and proceeded to describe at length the events of the Stephenson murder. Parisi and respondent then engaged in some casual conversation before respondent went to sleep. Parisi did not give respondent Miranda warnings before the conversations.

Respondent was charged with the Stephenson murder. Before trial, he moved to suppress the statements made to Parisi in the jail. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, and the State appealed. The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed, holding that Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), prohibits all undercover contacts with incarcerated suspects which are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.

We granted certiorari, 493 U.S. 808 (1989), to decide whether an undercover law enforcement officer must give

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Miranda warnings to an incarcerated suspect before asking him questions that may elicit an incriminating response. We now reverse.

[110 S.Ct. 2397] II

In Miranda v. Arizona, supra, the Court held that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination prohibits admitting statements given by a suspect during "custodial interrogation" without a prior warning. Custodial interrogation means "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody. . . ." Id., 384 U.S. at 444. The warning mandated by Miranda was meant to preserve the privilege during "incommunicado interrogation of individuals in a police-dominated atmosphere." Id. at 445. That atmosphere is said to generate

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.

Id. at 467.

Fidelity to the doctrine announced in Miranda requires that it be enforced strictly, but only in those types of situations in which the concerns that powered the decision are implicated.

Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 437 (1984).

Conversations between suspects and undercover agents do not implicate the concerns underlying Miranda. The essential ingredients of a "police-dominated atmosphere" and compulsion are not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone that he believes to be a fellow inmate. Coercion is determined from the perspective of the suspect. Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301 (1980); Berkemer v. McCarty...

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