Patterson v. Illinois, 487 U.S. 285 (1988)

Fundamental Cases in Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we are called on to determine whether the interrogation of petitioner after his indictment violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.


Before dawn on August 21, 1983, petitioner and other members of the “Vice Lords” street gang became involved in a fight with members of a rival gang, the “Black Mobsters.” Sometime after the fight, a former member of the Black Mobsters, James Jackson, went to the home where the Vice Lords had fled.  A second fight broke out there, with petitioner and three other Vice Lords beating Jackson severely.  The Vice Lords then put Jackson into a car, drove to the end of a nearby street, and left him face down in a puddle of water. Later that morning, police discovered Jackson, dead, where he had been left.

That afternoon, local police officers obtained warrants for the arrest of the Vice Lords, on charges of battery and mob action, in connection with the first fight.  One of the gang members who was arrested gave the police a statement concerning the first fight; the statement also implicated several of the Vice Lords (including petitioner) in Jackson’s murder.  A few hours later, petitioner was apprehended.  Petitioner was informed of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona (1966), and volunteered to answer questions put to him by the police.  Petitioner gave a statement concerning the initial fight between the rival gangs, but denied knowing anything about Jackson’s death.  Petitioner was held in custody the following day, August 22, as law enforcement authorities completed their investigation of the Jackson murder.

On August 23, a Cook County grand jury indicted petitioner and two other gang members for the murder of James Jackson.  Police Officer Michael Gresham, who had questioned petitioner earlier, removed him from the lockup where he was being held, and told petitioner that because he had been indicted he was being transferred to the Cook County jail.  Petitioner asked Gresham which of the gang members had been charged with Jackson’s murder, and upon learning that one particular Vice Lord had been omitted from the indictments, asked: “Why wasn’t he indicted, he did everything.” Petitioner also began to explain that there was a witness who would support his account of the crime.

At this point, Gresham interrupted petitioner, and handed him a Miranda waiver form.  The form contained five specific warnings, as suggested by this Court’s Miranda decision, to make petitioner aware of his right to counsel and of the consequences of any statement he might make to police.  Gresham read the warnings aloud, as petitioner read along with him.  Petitioner initialed each of the five warnings, and signed the waiver form.  Petitioner then gave a lengthy statement to police officers concerning the Jackson murder; petitioner’s statement described in detail the role of each of the Vice Lords—including himself—in the murder of James Jackson.

Later that day, petitioner confessed involvement in the murder for a second time.  This confession came in an interview with Assistant State’s Attorney (ASA) George Smith.  At the outset of the interview, Smith reviewed with petitioner the Miranda waiver he had previously signed, and petitioner confirmed that he had signed the waiver and understood his rights.  Smith went through the waiver procedure once again: reading petitioner his rights, having petitioner initial each one, and sign a waiver form.  In addition, Smith informed petitioner that he was a lawyer working with the police investigating the Jackson case.  Petitioner then gave another inculpatory statement concerning the crime.

Before trial, petitioner moved to suppress his statements, arguing that they were obtained in a manner at odds with various constitutional guarantees.  The trial court denied these motions, and the statements were used against petitioner at his trial.  The jury found petitioner guilty of murder, and petitioner was sentenced to a 24-year prison term.

On appeal, petitioner argued that he had not “knowingly and intelligently” waived his Sixth Amendment right to counsel before he gave his uncounseled postindictment confessions.  Petitioner contended that the warnings he received, while adequate for the purposes of protecting his Fifth Amendment rights as guaranteed by Miranda, did not adequately inform him of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  The Illinois Supreme Court, however, rejected this theory, applying its previous decision in People v. Owens (1984), which had held that Miranda warnings were sufficient to make a defendant aware of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel during postindictment questioning.

In reaching this conclusion, the Illinois Supreme Court noted that this Court had reserved decision on this question on several previous occasions and that the lower courts are divided on the issue. We granted this petition for certiorari to resolve this split of authority and to address the issues we had previously left open.


There can be no doubt that petitioner had the right to have the assistance of counsel at his postindictment interviews with law enforcement authorities.  Our cases make it plain that the Sixth Amendment guarantees this right to criminal defendants.  Petitioner asserts that the questioning that produced his incriminating statements violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in two ways.


Petitioner’s first claim is that because his Sixth Amendment right to counsel arose with his indictment, the police were thereafter barred from initiating a meeting with him.  He equates himself with a preindictment suspect who, while being interrogated, asserts his Fifth Amendment right to counsel; under Edwards v. Arizona (1981), such a suspect may not be questioned again unless he initiates the meeting.

Petitioner, however, at no time sought to exercise his right to have counsel present.  The fact that petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right came into existence with his indictment, i.e., that he had such a right at the time of his questioning, does not distinguish him from the preindictment interrogatee whose right to counsel is in existence and available for his exercise while he is questioned.  Had petitioner indicated he wanted the assistance of counsel, the authorities’ interview with him would have stopped, and further questioning would have been forbidden (unless petitioner called for such a meeting).  This was our holding in Michigan v. Jackson, which applied Edwards to the Sixth Amendment context.  We observe that the analysis in Jackson is rendered wholly unnecessary if petitioner’s position is correct: under petitioner’s theory, the officers in Jackson would have been completely barred from approaching the accused in that case unless he called for them.  Our decision in Jackson, however, turned on the fact that the accused “had asked for the help of a lawyer” in dealing with the police.

At bottom, petitioner’s theory cannot be squared with our rationale in Edwards, the case he relies on for support.  Edwards rested on the view that once “an accused . . . has expressed his desire to deal with the police only through counsel” he should “not be subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication.”  Preserving the integrity of an accused’s choice to communicate with police only through counsel is the essence of Edwards and its progeny—not barring an accused from making an initial election as to whether he will face the State’s officers during questioning with the aid of counsel, or go it alone.  If an accused “knowingly and intelligently” pursues the latter course, we see no reason why the uncounseled statements he then makes must be excluded at his trial.


Petitioner’s principal and more substantial claim is that questioning him without counsel present violated the Sixth Amendment because he did not validly waive his right to have counsel present during the interviews.  Since it is clear that after the Miranda warnings were given to petitioner, he not only voluntarily answered questions without claiming his right to silence or his right to have a lawyer present to advise him but also executed a written waiver of his right to counsel during questioning, the specific issue posed here is whether this waiver was a “knowing and intelligent” waiver of his Sixth Amendment right.

In the past, this Court has held that a waiver of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is valid only when it reflects “an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege.”  In other words, the accused must “know what he is doing” so that “his choice is made with eyes open.”  In a case arising under the Fifth Amendment, we described this requirement as “a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it.”  Whichever of these formulations is used, the key inquiry in a case such as this one must be: Was the accused, who waived his Sixth Amendment rights during postindictment questioning, made sufficiently aware of his right to have counsel present during the questioning, and of the possible consequences of a decision to forgo the aid of counsel?  In this case, we are convinced that by admonishing petitioner with the Miranda warnings, respondent has met this burden and that petitioner’s waiver of his right to counsel at the questioning was valid.

First, the Miranda warnings given petitioner made him aware of his right to have counsel present during the questioning.  By telling petitioner that he had a right to consult with an attorney, to have a lawyer present while he was questioned, and even to have a lawyer appointed for him if he could not afford to retain one on his own, Officer Gresham and ASA Smith conveyed to petitioner the sum and substance of the rights that the Sixth Amendment provided him.  “Indeed, it seems self-evident that one who is told he” has such rights to counsel “is in a curious posture to later complain” that his waiver of these rights was unknowing.  There is little more petitioner could have possibly been told in an effort to satisfy this portion of the waiver inquiry.

Second, the Miranda warnings also served to make petitioner aware of the consequences of a decision by him to waive his Sixth Amendment rights during postindictment questioning.  Petitioner knew that any statement that he made could be used against him in subsequent criminal proceedings.  This is the ultimate adverse consequence petitioner could have suffered by virtue of his choice to make uncounseled admissions to the authorities.  This warning also sufficed—contrary to petitioner’s claim here—to let petitioner know what a lawyer could “do for him” during the postindictment questioning: namely, advise petitioner to refrain from making any such statements.  By knowing what could be done with any statements he might make, and therefore, what benefit could be obtained by having the aid of counsel while making such statements, petitioner was essentially informed of the possible consequences of going without counsel during questioning.  If petitioner nonetheless lacked “a full and complete appreciation of all of the consequences flowing” from his waiver, it does not defeat the State’s showing that the information it provided to him satisfied the constitutional minimum.

Our conclusion is supported by petitioner’s inability, in the proceedings before this Court, to articulate with precision what additional information should have been provided to him before he would have been competent to waive his right to counsel.  All that petitioner’s brief and reply brief suggest is petitioner should have been made aware of his “right under the Sixth Amendment to the broad protection of counsel”—a rather nebulous suggestion—and the “gravity of his situation.”  But surely this latter “requirement” (if it is one) was met when Officer Gresham informed petitioner that he had been formally charged with the murder of James Jackson.  Under close questioning on this same point at argument, petitioner likewise failed to suggest any meaningful additional information that he should have been, but was not, provided in advance of his decision to waive his right to counsel.  The discussions found in favorable court decisions, on which petitioner relies, are similarly lacking.

As a general matter, then, an accused who is admonished with the warnings prescribed by this Court in Miranda has been sufficiently apprised of the nature of his Sixth Amendment rights, and of the consequences of abandoning those rights, so that his waiver on this basis will be considered a knowing and intelligent one.  We feel that our conclusion in a recent Fifth Amendment case is equally apposite here: “Once it is determined that a suspect’s decision not to rely on his rights was uncoerced, that he at all times knew he could stand mute and request a lawyer, and that he was aware of the State’s intention to use his statements to secure a conviction, the analysis is complete and the waiver is valid as a matter of law.”


We consequently reject petitioner’s argument, which has some acceptance from courts and commentators, that since “the sixth amendment right to counsel is far superior to that of the fifth amendment right” and since “the greater the right the greater the loss from a waiver of that right,” waiver of an accused’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel should be “more difficult” to effectuate than waiver of a suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights.  While our cases have recognized a “difference” between the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights to counsel, and the “policies” behind these constitutional guarantees, we have never suggested that one right is “superior” or “greater” than the other, nor is there any support in our cases for the notion that because a Sixth Amendment right may be involved, it is more difficult to waive than the Fifth Amendment counterpart.

Instead, we have taken a more pragmatic approach to the waiver question—asking what purposes a lawyer can serve at the particular stage of the proceedings in question, and what assistance he could provide to an accused at that stage—to determine the scope of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and the type of warnings and procedures that should be required before a waiver of that right will be recognized.

At one end of the spectrum, we have concluded there is no Sixth Amendment right to counsel whatsoever at a postindictment photographic display identification, because this procedure is not one at which the accused “requires aid in coping with legal problems or assistance in meeting his adversary.”  At the other extreme, recognizing the enormous importance and role that an attorney plays at a criminal trial, we have imposed the most rigorous restrictions on the information that must be conveyed to a defendant, and the procedures that must be observed, before permitting him to waive his right to counsel at trial.  In these extreme cases, and in others that fall between these two poles, we have defined the scope of the right to counsel by a pragmatic assessment of the usefulness of counsel to the accused at the particular proceeding, and the dangers to the accused of proceeding without counsel.  An accused’s waiver of his right to counsel is “knowing” when he is made aware of these basic facts.

Applying this approach, it is our view that whatever warnings suffice for Miranda’s purposes will also be sufficient in the context of postindictment questioning.  The State’s decision to take an additional step and commence formal adversarial proceedings against the accused does not substantially increase the value of counsel to the accused at questioning, or expand the limited purpose that an attorney serves when the accused is questioned by authorities.  With respect to this inquiry, we do not discern a substantial difference between the usefulness of a lawyer to a suspect during custodial interrogation, and his value to an accused at postindictment questioning.

Thus, we require a more searching or formal inquiry before permitting an accused to waive his right to counsel at trial than we require for a Sixth Amendment waiver during postindictment questioning—not because postindictment questioning is “less important” than a trial (the analysis that petitioner’s “hierarchical” approach would suggest)—but because the full “dangers and disadvantages of self-representation,” during questioning are less substantial and more obvious to an accused than they are at trial.  Because the role of counsel at questioning is relatively simple and limited, we see no problem in having a waiver procedure at that stage which is likewise simple and limited.  So long as the accused is made aware of the “dangers and disadvantages of self-representation” during postindictment questioning, by use of the Miranda warnings, his waiver of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at such questioning is “knowing and intelligent.”


Before confessing to the murder of James Jackson, petitioner was meticulously informed by authorities of his right to counsel, and of the consequences of any choice not to exercise that right.  On two separate occasions, petitioner elected to forgo the assistance of counsel, and speak directly to officials concerning his role in the murder.  Because we believe that petitioner’s waiver of his Sixth Amendment rights was “knowing and intelligent,” we find no error in the decision of the trial court to permit petitioner’s confessions to be used against him.  Consequently, the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court is


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Last Modified:  08/21/2019


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