Berghuis v. Thompkins, No. 08–1470.

Decision Date01 June 2010
Docket NumberNo. 08–1470.
Citation130 S.Ct. 2250,560 U.S. 370,176 L.Ed.2d 1098
PartiesMary BERGHUIS, Warden, Petitioner, v. Van Chester THOMPKINS.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

B. Eric Restuccia, Lansing, MI, for Petitioner.

Nicole A. Saharsky, for United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Petitioner.

Elizabeth L. Jacobs, Detroit, MI, for Respondent.

Michael A. Cox, Attorney General, B. Eric Restuccia, Michigan Solicitor General, Lansing, Michigan, Brad H. Beaver, William E. Molner, Senior Appellate Attorney, Appellate Division, Assistant Attorneys General, Attorneys for Petitioner.


Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a habeas corpus proceeding challenging a Michigan conviction for first-degree murder and certain other offenses, ruled that there had been two separate constitutional errors in the trial that led to the jury's guilty verdict. First, the Court of Appeals determined that a statement by the accused, relied on at trial by the prosecution, had been elicited in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Second, it found that failure to ask for an instruction relating to testimony from an accomplice was ineffective assistance by defense counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). Both of these contentions had been rejected in Michigan courts and in the habeas corpus proceedings before the United States District Court. Certiorari was granted to review the decision by the Court of Appeals on both points. The warden of a Michigan correctional facility is the petitioner here, and Van Chester Thompkins, who was convicted, is the respondent.


On January 10, 2000, a shooting occurred outside a mall in Southfield, Michigan. Among the victims was Samuel Morris, who died from multiple gunshot wounds. The other victim, Frederick France, recovered from his injuries and later testified. Thompkins, who was a suspect, fled. About one year later he was found in Ohio and arrested there.

Two Southfield police officers traveled to Ohio to interrogate Thompkins, then awaiting transfer to Michigan. The interrogation began around 1:30 p.m. and lasted about three hours. The interrogation was conducted in a room that was 8 by 10 feet, and Thompkins sat in a chair that resembled a school desk (it had an arm on it that swings around to provide a surface to write on). App. 144a–145a. At the beginning of the interrogation, one of the officers, Detective Helgert, presented Thompkins with a form derived from the Miranda rule. It stated:


“1. You have the right to remain silent.
“2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
“3. You have a right to talk to a lawyer before answering any questions and you have the right to have a lawyer present with you while you are answering any questions.
“4. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you wish one.
“5. You have the right to decide at any time before or during questioning to use your right to remain silent and your right to talk with a lawyer while you are being questioned.” Brief for Petitioner 60 (some capitalization omitted).

Helgert asked Thompkins to read the fifth warning out loud. App. 8a. Thompkins complied. Helgert later said this was to ensure that Thompkins could read, and Helgert concluded that Thompkins understood English. Id., at 9a. Helgert then read the other four Miranda warnings out loud and asked Thompkins to sign the form to demonstrate that he understood his rights. App. 8a–9a. Thompkins declined to sign the form. The record contains conflicting evidence about whether Thompkins then verbally confirmed that he understood the rights listed on the form. Compare id., at 9a (at a suppression hearing, Helgert testified that Thompkins verbally confirmed that he understood his rights), with id., at 148a (at trial, Helgert stated, “I don't know that I orally asked him” whether Thompkins understood his rights).

Officers began an interrogation. At no point during the interrogation did Thompkins say that he wanted to remain silent, that he did not want to talk with the police, or that he wanted an attorney. Id., at 10a. Thompkins was [l]argely” silent during the interrogation, which lasted about three hours. Id., at 19a. He did give a few limited verbal responses, however, such as “yeah,” “no,” or “I don't know.” And on occasion he communicated by nodding his head. Id., at 23a. Thompkins also said that he “didn't want a peppermint” that was offered to him by the police and that the chair he was “sitting in was hard.” Id., at 152a.

About 2 hours and 45 minutes into the interrogation, Helgert asked Thompkins, “Do you believe in God?” Id., at 11a, 153a. Thompkins made eye contact with Helgert and said “Yes,” as his eyes “well[ed] up with tears.” Id., at 11a. Helgert asked, “Do you pray to God?” Thompkins said “Yes.” Id., at 11a, 153a. Helgert asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” Id., at 153a. Thompkins answered “Yes” and looked away. Ibid. Thompkins refused to make a written confession, and the interrogation ended about 15 minutes later. Id., at 11a.

Thompkins was charged with first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and certain firearms-related offenses. He moved to suppress the statements made during the interrogation. He argued that he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, requiring police to end the interrogation at once, see Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96, 103, 96 S.Ct. 321, 46 L.Ed.2d 313 (1975) (citing Miranda, 384 U.S., at 474, 86 S.Ct. 1602), that he had not waived his right to remain silent, and that his inculpatory statements were involuntary. The trial court denied the motion.

At trial, the prosecution's theory was that Thompkins shot the victims from the passenger seat of a van driven by Eric Purifoy. Purifoy testified that he had been driving the van and that Thompkins was in the passenger seat while another man, one Myzell Woodward, was in the back. The defense strategy was to pin the blame on Purifoy. Purifoy testified he did not see who fired the weapon because the van was stopped and he was bending over near the floor when shots were fired. Purifoy explained that, just after the shooting, Thompkins, holding a pistol, told Purifoy, “What the hell you doing? Pull off.” Purifoy then drove away from the scene. App. 170a.

So that the Thompkins jury could assess Purifoy's credibility and knowledge, the prosecution elicited testimony from Purifoy that he had been tried earlier for the shooting under an aiding-and-abetting theory. Purifoy and Detective Helgert testified that a jury acquitted him of the murder and assault charges, convicted him of carrying a concealed weapon in a motor vehicle, and hung on two other firearms offenses to which he later pleaded guilty. At Purifoy's trial, the prosecution had argued that Purifoy was the driver and Thompkins was the shooter. This was consistent with the prosecution's argument at Thompkins's trial.

After Purifoy's trial had ended—but before Thompkins's trial began—Purifoy sent Thompkins some letters. The letters expressed Purifoy's disappointment that Thompkins's family thought Purifoy was a “snitch” and a “rat.” Id., at 179a–180a. In one letter Purifoy offered to send a copy of his trial transcript to Thompkins as proof that Purifoy did not place the blame on Thompkins for the shooting. Id., at 180a. The letters also contained statements by Purifoy that claimed they were both innocent. Id., at 178a–179a. At Thompkins's trial, the prosecution suggested that one of Purifoy's letters appeared to give Thompkins a trial strategy. It was, the prosecution suggested, that Woodward shot the victims, allowing Purifoy and Thompkins to say they dropped to the floor when the shooting started. Id., at 187a–189a.

During closing arguments, the prosecution suggested that Purifoy lied when he testified that he did not see Thompkins shoot the victims:

“Did Eric Purifoy's Jury make the right decision? I'm not here to judge that. You are not bound by what his Jury found. Take his testimony for what it was, [a] twisted attempt to help not just an acquaintance but his tight buddy.” Id., at 202a.

Defense counsel did not object. Defense counsel also did not ask for an instruction informing the jury that it could consider evidence of the outcome of Purifoy's trial only to assess Purifoy's credibility, not to establish Thompkins's guilt.

The jury found Thompkins guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.


The trial court denied a motion for new trial filed by Thompkins's appellate counsel. The trial court rejected the claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to ask for a limiting instruction regarding the outcome of Purifoy's trial, reasoning that this did not prejudice Thompkins. Id., at 236a.

Thompkins appealed this ruling, along with the trial court's refusal to suppress his pretrial statements under Miranda. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the Miranda claim, ruling that Thompkins had not invoked his right to remain silent and had waived it. It also rejected the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, finding that Thompkins failed to show that evidence of Purifoy's conviction for firearms offenses resulted in prejudice. App. to Pet. for Cert. 74a–82a. The Michigan Supreme Court denied discretionary review. 471 Mich. 866, 683 N.W.2d 676 (2004) (table).

Thompkins filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The District Court rejected Thompkins's Miranda and ineffective-assistance claims. App. to Pet. for Cert. 39a–72a. It noted that, under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA...

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