Colorado v. Spring, No. 85-1517

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPOWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN
Citation93 L.Ed.2d 954,479 U.S. 564,107 S.Ct. 851
Decision Date27 January 1987
Docket NumberNo. 85-1517
PartiesCOLORADO v. SPRING

479 U.S. 564
107 S.Ct. 851
93 L.Ed.2d 954
COLORADO

v.

SPRING.

No. 85-1517.
Argued Dec. 9, 1986.
Decided Jan. 27, 1987.
Syllabus

In February 1979, respondent and a companion shot and killed one Walker during a hunting trip in Colorado. Thereafter, based on information received from an informant as to respondent's involvement in the interstate transportation of stolen firearms, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) set up an undercover purchase of firearms from respondent, and on March 30, 1979, arrested him. After being advised of his Miranda rights, respondent signed a statement that he understood and waived his rights and was willing to answer questions. The agents then questioned him about the firearms transactions that led to his arrest and also asked him whether he had ever shot anyone, to which he answered that he had "shot another guy once." But when asked whether he had shot a man named Walker, he said "no." On May 26, 1979, Colorado law enforcement officers gave respondent Miranda warnings, and he again signed a statement that he understood his rights and was willing to waive them. He then confessed to the Colorado murder and signed a statement to that effect. Upon being charged in a Colorado state court with first-degree murder, respondent moved to suppress both the March 30 and May 26 statements on the ground that his waiver of Miranda rights was invalid. The trial court held that the ATF agents' failure to inform respondent before the March 30 interview that they would question him about the Colorado murder did not affect the waiver and that therefore the March 30 statement should not be suppressed. But, while ruling that the March 30 statement was inadmissible on other grounds, the court held that the May 26 statement was made freely, voluntarily, and intelligently and should not be suppressed, and hence admitted it in evidence, and respondent was convicted. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent's waiver of his Miranda rights before the March 30 statement was invalid because he was not informed that he would be questioned about the Colorado murder, and that the State had failed to prove the May 26 statement was not the product of the prior illegal statement. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, holding that respondent's confession to the murder should have been suppressed because it was the illegal "fruit" of the March 30 statement.

Page 565

Held: A suspect's awareness of all the crimes about which he may be questioned is not relevant to determining the validity of his decision to waive the Fifth Amendment privilege; accordingly, the ATF agents' failure to inform respondent of the subject matter of the interrogation could not affect his decision to waive that privilege in a constitutionally significant manner. Pp. 571-577.

(a) A confession cannot be "fruit of the poisonous tree" if the tree itself is not poisonous. Pp. 571-572.

(b) Respondent's March 30 decision to waive his Fifth Amendment privilege was voluntary absent evidence that his will was overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired because of coercive police conduct. His waiver was also knowingly and intelligently made, that is, he understood that he had the right to remain silent and that anything he said could be used as evidence against him. The Constitution does not require that a suspect know and understand every possible consequence of a waiver of the Fifth Amendment privilege. Here, there was no allegation that respondent failed to understand that privilege or that he misunderstood the consequences of speaking freely. Pp. 573-575.

(c) Mere silence by law enforcement officials as to the subject matter of an interrogation is not "trickery" sufficient to invalidate a suspect's waiver of Miranda rights. Once Miranda warnings are given, it is difficult to see how official silence could cause a suspect to misunderstand the nature of his constitutional privilege to refuse to answer any questions that might incriminate him. The additional information in question in this case could affect only the wisdom of a Miranda waiver, not its voluntary and knowing nature. Pp. 575-577.

713 P.2d 865, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 577.

Maureen Phelan, for petitioner.

Lawrence S. Robbins, New York City, for the U.S., as amicus curiae, in support of the petitioner, by special leave of Court.

Page 566

Seth Jeremy Benezra, Denver, Colo., for respondent.

Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), the Court held that a suspect's waiver of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination is valid only if it is made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. Id., at 444, 86 S.Ct., at 1612. This case presents the question whether the suspect's awareness of all the crimes about which he may be questioned is relevant to determining the validity of his decision to waive the Fifth Amendment privilege.

I

In February 1979, respondent John Leroy Spring and a companion shot and killed Donald Walker during a hunting trip in Colorado. Shortly thereafter, an informant told agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) that Spring was engaged in the interstate transportation of stolen firearms. The informant also told the agents that Spring had discussed his participation in the Colorado killing. At the time the ATF agents received this information, Walker's body had not been found and the police had received no report of his disappearance. Based on the information received from the informant relating to the firearms violations, the ATF agents set up an undercover operation to purchase firearms from Spring. On March 30, 1979, ATF agents arrested Spring in Kansas City, Missouri, during the undercover purchase.

Page 567

An ATF agent on the scene of the arrest advised Spring of his Miranda rights.1 Spring was advised of his Miranda rights a second time after he was transported to the ATF office in Kansas City. At the ATF office, the agents also advised Spring that he had the right to stop the questioning at any time or to stop the questioning until the presence of an attorney could be secured. Spring then signed a written form stating that he understood and waived his rights, and that he was willing to make a statement and answer questions.

ATF agents first questioned Spring about the firearms transactions that led to his arrest. They then asked Spring if he had a criminal record. He admitted that he had a juvenile record for shooting his aunt when he was 10 years old. The agents asked if Spring had ever shot anyone else. Spring ducked his head and mumbled, "I shot another guy once." The agents asked Spring if he had ever been to Colorado. Spring said no. The agents asked Spring whether he had shot a man named Walker in Colorado and thrown his body into a snowbank. Spring paused and then ducked his head again and said no. The interview ended at this point.

On May 26, 1979, Colorado law enforcement officials visited Spring while he was in jail in Kansas City pursuant to his arrest on the firearms offenses. The officers gave Spring the Miranda warnings, and Spring again signed a written form indicating that he understood his rights and was willing to waive them. The officers informed Spring that they wanted to question him about the Colorado homicide. Spring indicated that he "wanted to get it off his chest." In an interview that lasted approximately 11/2 hours, Spring confessed to the Colorado murder. During that time, Spring

Page 568

talked freely to the officers, did not indicate a desire to terminate the questioning, and never requested counsel. The officers prepared a written statement summarizing the interview. Spring read, edited, and signed the statement.

Spring was charged in Colorado state court with first-degree murder. Spring moved to suppress both statements on the ground that his waiver of Miranda rights was invalid. The trial court found that the ATF agents' failure to inform Spring before the March 30 interview that they would question him about the Colorado murder did not affect his waiver of his Miranda rights:

"[T]he questions themselves suggested the topic of inquiry. The questions dealt with 'shooting anyone' and specifically killing a man named Walker and throwing his body in a snowbank in Colorado. The questions were not designed to gather information relating to a subject that was not readily evident or apparent to Spring. Spring had been advised of his right to remain silent, his right to stop answering questions, and to have an Attorney present during interrogation. He did not elect to exercise his right to remain silent or to refuse to answer questions relating to the homicide, nor did he request Counsel during interrogation." App. to Pet. for Cert. 4-A.

Accordingly, the trial court concluded that the March 30 statement should not be suppressed on Fifth Amendment grounds. The trial court, however, subsequently ruled that Spring's statement that he "shot another guy once" was irrelevant, and that the context of the discussion did not support the inference that the statement related to the Walker homicide. For that reason, the March 30 statement was not admitted at Spring's trial. The court concluded that the May 26 statement "was made freely, voluntarily, and intelligently, after [Spring's] being properly and fully advised of his rights, and that the statement should not be suppressed, but should

Page 569

be admitted in evidence." Id., at 5-A. The May 26 statement was admitted into evidence at trial, and Spring was convicted of first-degree murder.2

Spring argued on appeal that his waiver of Miranda...

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1113 practice notes
  • Arizona v. Roberson, No. 87-354
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1988
    ...423 U.S. 96, 96 S.Ct. 321, 46 L.Ed.2d 313; Connecticut v. Barrett, 479 U.S. 523, 107 S.Ct. 828, 93 L.Ed.2d 920; Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 107 S.Ct. 851, 93 L.Ed.2d 954; and Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159, 106 S.Ct. 477, 88 L.Ed.2d 481 distinguished. Pp. 682-685. (c) The nature and f......
  • Soffar v. Cockrell, No. 98-20385.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 29, 2002
    ...he is free to refuse to answer questions is in a curious posture to later complain that his answers were compelled." Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 576, 107 S.Ct. 851, 93 L.Ed.2d 954 (1987) (holding that suspect need not "know and understand every consequence of a Once a suspect has waiv......
  • Bush v. Carpenter, No. 16-6318
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • June 10, 2019
    ...to a jury. Aplt. Br. at 86 (citing Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938), and Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 573, 107 S.Ct. 851, 93 L.Ed.2d 954 (1987) ). The voluntariness of Bush’s waiver at trial, however, which was resolved by the OCCA on direct app......
  • US v. Bad Hand, Crim. No. 95-30068.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • May 21, 1996
    ...waived. Id. (quoting Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707, 725, 99 S.Ct. 2560, 2571-72, 61 L.Ed.2d 197 (1979)); see also, Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 573, 107 S.Ct. 851, 856-57, 93 L.Ed.2d 954 (1987); Butler, 441 U.S. at 374-75, 99 S.Ct. at 1757-59. In view of the 926 F. Supp. 903 Supreme......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1113 cases
  • Arizona v. Roberson, No. 87-354
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1988
    ...423 U.S. 96, 96 S.Ct. 321, 46 L.Ed.2d 313; Connecticut v. Barrett, 479 U.S. 523, 107 S.Ct. 828, 93 L.Ed.2d 920; Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 107 S.Ct. 851, 93 L.Ed.2d 954; and Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159, 106 S.Ct. 477, 88 L.Ed.2d 481 distinguished. Pp. 682-685. (c) The nature and f......
  • Soffar v. Cockrell, No. 98-20385.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 29, 2002
    ...he is free to refuse to answer questions is in a curious posture to later complain that his answers were compelled." Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 576, 107 S.Ct. 851, 93 L.Ed.2d 954 (1987) (holding that suspect need not "know and understand every consequence of a Once a suspect has waiv......
  • Bush v. Carpenter, No. 16-6318
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • June 10, 2019
    ...to a jury. Aplt. Br. at 86 (citing Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938), and Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 573, 107 S.Ct. 851, 93 L.Ed.2d 954 (1987) ). The voluntariness of Bush’s waiver at trial, however, which was resolved by the OCCA on direct app......
  • US v. Bad Hand, Crim. No. 95-30068.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • May 21, 1996
    ...waived. Id. (quoting Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707, 725, 99 S.Ct. 2560, 2571-72, 61 L.Ed.2d 197 (1979)); see also, Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 573, 107 S.Ct. 851, 856-57, 93 L.Ed.2d 954 (1987); Butler, 441 U.S. at 374-75, 99 S.Ct. at 1757-59. In view of the 926 F. Supp. 903 Supreme......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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