Supreme Court Cases Dealing With Violation of Sixth Amendment Right

Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977), was a case from a state criminal court. Bobby Williams's arraignment in Davenport, Iowa, conferred on him the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. On the subsequent midnight ride back across the state to Des Moines, an officer's famous "Christian burial speech" was later deemed by the Supreme Court to be the functional equivalent of interrogation. With Williams's ostensible waiver of counsel being held to be ineffective, the Court condemned the interrogation as having been in violation of Williams's Sixth Amendment right. There can be no serious doubt, either, that Detective Leaming deliberately and designedly set out to elicit information from Williams just as surely as -- and perhaps more effectively than -- if he had formally interrogated him. Detective Leaming was fully aware before departing for Des Moines that Williams was being represented in Davenport by Kelly and in Des Moines by McKnight. Yet he purposely sought during Williams's isolation from his lawyers to obtain as much incriminating information as possible. 430 U.S. at 399. In United States v. Henry, 447 U.S. 264 (1980), the defendant had been indicted and was incarcerated pending trial. The prosecution used a fellow inmate to listen for, but not to elicit, possibly incriminating statements made by the defendant to fellow prisoners. Such incriminating statements were, indeed, forthcoming and they were used to help convict the defendant. The Supreme Court held that because the fellow prisoner, a paid informant working on a contingent fee basis, had deliberately "elicited" the incriminating conversation, the tactic constituted, as it had in Massiah and Brewer v. Williams, an interference with Henry's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Court characterized the critical question as one of "whether the Government has interfered with the right to counsel of the accused by deliberately eliciting incriminating statements." 447 U.S. at 272. United States v. Henry is to be contrasted with Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 477 U.S. 436, 106 S. Ct. 2616, 91 L. Ed. 2d 364 (1986), a case wherein the Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not violated because the undercover fellow prisoner, instead of inducing conversation, acted only as a "passive listening post." Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159 (1985), was also a case where the indicted defendant was engaged in unsuspecting conversation by a codefendant who was secretly cooperating with the police. The conversation was recorded. In finding a violation of the Sixth Amendment, Justice Brennan's opinion puts its finger on the core value being protected by the Sixth Amendment right. It is not, as in the case of the Fifth Amendment, a protection against compelled self-incrimination. It is, rather, "the right to rely on counsel as a 'medium' between himself and the State." The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused, at least after the initiation of formal charges, the right to rely on counsel as a 'medium' between him and the State. As noted above, this guarantee includes the State's affirmative obligation not to act in a manner that circumvents the protections accorded to the accused by invoking this right. The determination whether particular action by state agents violates the accused's right to the assistance of counsel must be made in light of this obligation. 474 U.S. at 176. In Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964), Massiah had been indicted and, therefore, enjoyed Sixth Amendment protection. Unbeknownst to him, his coconspirator, Colson, agreed to cooperate with the federal investigators. Outfitted with a hidden listening device, Colson sat with Massiah in Colson's automobile and engaged in lengthy conversation. Massiah's incriminating remarks were used against him at trial. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction because the taking of the incriminatory statements violated Massiah's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. We hold that the petitioner was denied the basic protections of that guarantee when there was used against him at his trial evidence of his own incriminating words, which federal agents had deliberately elicited from him after he had been indicted and in the absence of his counsel. 377 U.S. at 206.