Brewer v. Williams

In Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977), defendant was charged with the murder of a 10-year-old child. While transporting the defendant by automobile between Davenport, Iowa and Des Moines, Iowa -- a distance of 160 miles -- a police detective made to the defendant what was described as the "Christian burial speech." The detective told defendant that snow was predicted and that he felt that defendant was the only person who knew where the little girl's body was and that if snow covered the body they might not be able to find it and that "'I feel that we could stop and locate the body, that the parents of this little girl should be entitled to a Christian burial for the little girl who was snatched away from them on Christmas Eve and murdered. And I feel we should stop and locate it on the way in rather than waiting until morning and trying to come back out after a snow storm and possibly not being able to find it at all.'" ( Brewer, supra, 430 U.S. 387, 393.) The Brewer court characterized this statement of the police detective to the defendant as an "interrogation" by observing that "there can be no serious doubt" that the detective "deliberately and designedly set out to elicit information from Williams the defendant just as surely as -- and perhaps more effectively than -- if he had formally interrogated him." ( Id. at p. 399.) In Brewer v. Williams, the United States Supreme Court in a lead opinion authored by Justice Stewart and joined by Justice Brennan decided that a defendant in a case like this did not validly waive his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. See Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, 97 S. Ct. 1232, 1243, 51 L. Ed. 2d 424 (1977). The Court, however, decided that such a defendant could unilaterally make a valid waiver of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel even when the defendant previously has asserted his right to counsel, otherwise it would have been unnecessary for Brewer to decide whether the defendant validly waived his right to counsel: "Despite Williams' express and implicit assertions of his right to counsel, Detective Leaming proceeded to elicit incriminating statements from Williams. Leaming did not preface this effort by telling Williams that he had a right to the presence of a lawyer, and made no effort at all to ascertain whether Williams wished to relinquish that right. The circumstances of record in this case thus provide no reasonable basis for finding that Williams waived his right to the assistance of counsel. "The Court of Appeals did not hold, nor do we, that under the circumstances of this case the defendant could not, without notice to counsel, have waived his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. It only held, as we do, that he did not." Williams, 97 S. Ct. at 1243.