532 U.S. 162 (2001), 99-1702, Texas v. Cobb

Docket Nº:Case No. 99-1702
Citation:532 U.S. 162, 121 S.Ct. 1335, 149 L.Ed.2d 321, 69 U.S.L.W. 3551
Party Name:TEXAS v. COBB
Case Date:April 02, 2001
Court:United States Supreme Court

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532 U.S. 162 (2001)

121 S.Ct. 1335, 149 L.Ed.2d 321, 69 U.S.L.W. 3551




Case No. 99-1702

United States Supreme Court

April 2, 2001

Argued January 16, 2001



While under arrest for an unrelated offense, respondent confessed to a home burglary, but denied knowledge of a woman and child's disappearance from the home. He was indicted for the burglary, and counsel was appointed to represent him. He later confessed to his father that he had killed the woman and child, and his father then contacted the police. While in custody, respondent waived his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, and confessed to the murders. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. On appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, he argued, inter alia, that his confession should have been suppressed because it was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which he claimed attached when counsel was appointed in the burglary case. The court reversed and remanded, holding that once the right to counsel attaches to the offense charged, it also attaches to any other offense that is very closely related factually to the offense charged.


Because the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is "offense specific," it does not necessarily extend to offenses that are "factually related" to those that have actually been charged. Pp. 167-174.

(a) In McNeil v. Wisconsin, 501 U.S. 171, 176, this Court held that a defendant's statements regarding offenses for which he has not been charged are admissible notwithstanding the attachment of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel on other charged offenses. Although some lower courts have read into McNeil 's offense-specific definition an exception for crimes that are "factually related" to a charged offense, and have interpreted Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, and Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159, to support this view, this Court declines to do so. Brewer did not address the question at issue here. And to the extent Moulton spoke to the matter at all, it expressly referred to the offense-specific nature of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. In predicting that the offense-specific rule will prove disastrous to suspects' constitutional rights and will permit the police almost total license to conduct unwanted and uncounseled interrogations, respondent fails to appreciate two critical considerations. First, there can be no doubt that a suspect must be apprised of his rights against compulsory self-incrimination and to consult with an attorney before authorities may conduct custodial interrogation. See Miranda, supra, at 479. Here, police scrupulously

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followed Miranda 's dictates when questioning respondent. Second, the Constitution does not negate society's interest in the police's ability to talk to witnesses and suspects, even those who have been charged with other offenses. See McNeil, supra, at 181. Pp. 167-172.

(b) Although the Sixth Amendment right to counsel clearly attaches only to charged offenses, this Court has recognized in other contexts that the definition of an "offense" is not necessarily limited to the four corners of a charging document. The test to determine whether there are two different offenses or only one is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not. Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304. The Blockburger test has been applied to delineate the scope of the Fifth Amendment's Double Jeopardy Clause, which prevents multiple or successive prosecutions for the "same offense." See, e. g., Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 164-166. There is no constitutional difference between "offense" in the double jeopardy and right-to-counsel contexts. Accordingly, when the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches, it encompasses offenses that, even if not formally charged, would be considered the same offense under the Blockburger test. Pp. 172-174.

(c) At the time respondent confessed to the murders, he had been indicted for burglary but had not been charged in the murders. As defined by Texas law, these crimes are not the same offense under Blockburger. Thus, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel did not bar police from interrogating respondent regarding the murders, and his confession was therefore admissible. P. 174.


Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined, post, p. 174. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined, post, p. 177.

Gregory S. Coleman, Solicitor General of Texas, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were John Cornyn, Attorney General, Andy Taylor, First Assistant Attorney General, and S. Kyle Duncan, Assistant Solicitor General.

Lisa Schiavo Blatt argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General

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Robinson, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Deborah Watson.

Roy E. Greenwood, by appointment of the Court, 531 U.S. 807, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were David A. Schulman and Lee Haidusek. [*]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that a criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches not only to the offense with which he is charged, but to other offenses "closely related factually" to the charged offense. We hold that our decision in McNeil v. Wisconsin, 501 U.S. 171 (1991), meant what it said, and that the Sixth Amendment right is "offense specific."

In December 1993, Lindsey Owings reported to the Walker County, Texas, Sheriff's Office that the home he

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shared with his wife, Margaret, and their 16-month-old daughter, Kori Rae, had been burglarized. He also informed police that his wife and daughter were missing. Respondent Raymond Levi Cobb lived across the street from the Owings. Acting on an anonymous tip that respondent was involved in the burglary, Walker County investigators questioned him about the events. He denied involvement. In July 1994, while under arrest for an unrelated offense, respondent was again questioned about the incident. Respondent then gave a written statement confessing to the burglary, but he denied knowledge relating to the disappearances. Respondent was subsequently indicted for the burglary, and Hal Ridley was appointed in August 1994 to represent respondent on that charge.

Shortly after Ridley's appointment, investigators asked and received his permission to question respondent about the disappearances. Respondent continued to deny involvement. Investigators repeated this process in September 1995, again with Ridley's permission and again with the same result.

In November 1995, respondent, free on bond in the burglary case, was living with his father in Odessa, Texas. At that time, respondent's father contacted the Walker County Sheriff's Office to report that respondent had confessed to him that he killed Margaret Owings in the course of the burglary. Walker County investigators directed respondent's father to the Odessa police station, where he gave a statement. Odessa police then faxed the statement to Walker County, where investigators secured a warrant for respondent's arrest and faxed it back to Odessa. Shortly thereafter, Odessa police took respondent into custody and administered warnings pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Respondent waived these rights.

After a short time, respondent confessed to murdering both Margaret and Kori Rae. Respondent explained that when Margaret confronted him as he was attempting to remove

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the Owings' stereo, he stabbed her in the stomach with a knife he was carrying. Respondent told police that he dragged her body to a wooded area a few hundred yards from the house. Respondent then stated:

" 'I went back to her house and I saw the baby laying on its bed. I took the baby out there and it was sleeping the whole time. I laid the baby down on the ground four or five feet away from its mother. I went back to my house and got a flat edge shovel. That's all I could find. Then I went back over to where they were and I started digging a hole between them. After I got the hole dug, the baby was awake. It started going toward its mom and it fell in the hole. I put the lady in the hole and I covered them up. I remember stabbing a different knife I had in the ground where they were. I was crying right then.' " App. to Pet. for Cert. A-9 to A-10.

Respondent later led police to the location where he had buried the victims' bodies.

Respondent was convicted of capital murder for murdering more than one person in the course of a single criminal transaction. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 19.03(a)(7)(A) (1994). He was sentenced to death. On appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, respondent argued, inter alia, that his confession should have been suppressed because it was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Relying on Michigan v. Jackson, 475 U.S. 625 (1986), respondent contended that his right to counsel had attached when Ridley was appointed in the burglary case and that Odessa police were therefore required to secure Ridley's permission before proceeding with the interrogation.

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed respondent's conviction by a divided vote and remanded for a new trial. The court held that "once the right to counsel attaches to

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the offense charged, it also attaches to any other offense that is very closely related factually to the offense charged." 2000 WL 275644, *3 (2000) (citations omitted). Finding the capital murder charge to...

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