Escobedo v. Illinois/Dissent White

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Escobedo v. Illinois by Byron White
Dissenting Opinion
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372 U.S. 335 (1963)

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom MR. JUSTICE CLARK and MR. JUSTICE STEWART join, dissenting.

In Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201, the Court held that, as of the date of the indictment, the prosecution is dissentitled to secure admissions from the accused. The Court now moves that date back to the time when the prosecution begins to "focus" on the accused. Although the opinion purports to be limited to the facts of this case, it would be naive to think that the new constitutional right announced will depend upon whether the accused has retained his own counsel, cf. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335; Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12; Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, or has asked to consult with counsel in the course of interrogation. Cf. Carnley v. Cochran, 369 U.S. 506. At the very least, the Court holds that, once the accused becomes a suspect and, presumably, is arrested, any admission made to the police thereafter is inadmissible in evidence unless the accused has waived his right to counsel. The decision is thus another major step in the direction of the goal which the Court seemingly has in mind — to bar from evidence all admissions obtained from an individual suspected of crime, whether involuntarily made or not. It does, of course, put us one step "ahead" of the English judges who have had the good sense to leave the matter a discretionary one with the trial court. 378 U.S. S. 496Á the invitation to go farther which the Court has now issued.

By abandoning the voluntary-involuntary test for admissibility of confessions, the Court seems driven by the notion that it is uncivilized law enforcement to use an accused's own admissions against him at his trial. It attempts to find a home for this new and nebulous rule of due process by attaching it to the right to counsel guaranteed in the federal system by the Sixth Amendment and binding upon the States by virtue of the due process guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment. Gideon v. Wainwright, supra. The right to counsel now not only entitles the accused to counsel's advice and aid in preparing for trial, but stands as an impenetrable barrier to any interrogation once the accused has become a suspect. From that very moment, apparently his right to counsel attaches, a rule wholly unworkable and impossible to administer unless police cars are equipped with public defenders and undercover agents and police informants have defense counsel at their side. I would not abandon the Court's prior cases defining with some care and analysis the circumstances requiring the presence or aid of counsel and substitute the amorphous and wholly unworkable principle that counsel is constitutionally required whenever he would or could be helpful. Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52; White v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 59; Gideon v. [p378] Wainwright, supra. These cases dealt with the requirement of counsel at proceedings in which definable rights could be won or lost, not with stages where probative evidence might be obtained. Under this new approach, one might just as well argue that a potential defendant is constitutionally entitled to a lawyer before, not after, he commits a crime, since it is then that crucial incriminating evidence is put within the reach of the Government by the would-be accused. Until now, there simply has been no right guaranteed by the Federal Constitution to be free from the use at trial of a voluntary admission made prior to indictment.

It is incongruous to assume that the provision for counsel in the Sixth Amendment was meant to amend or supersede the self-incrimination provision of the Fifth Amendment, which is now applicable to the States. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1. That amendment addresses itself to the very issue of incriminating admissions of an accused and resolves it by proscribing only compelled statements. Neither the Framers, the constitutional language, a century of decisions of this Court, nor Professor Wigmore provides an iota of support for the idea that an accused has an absolute constitutional right not to answer even in the absence of compulsion — the constitutional right not to incriminate himself by making voluntary disclosures.

Today's decision cannot be squared with other provisions of the Constitution which, in my view, define the system of criminal justice this Court is empowered to administer. The Fourth Amendment permits upon probable cause even compulsory searches of the suspect and his possessions and the use of the fruits of the search at trial, all in the absence of counsel. The Fifth Amendment and state constitutional provisions authorize, indeed require, inquisitorial grand jury proceedings at which a potential defendant, in the absence of counsel, [p378] is shielded against no more than compulsory incrimination. Mulloney v. United States, 79 F.2d 566, 578 (C.A. 1st Cir.); United States v. Benjamin, 120 F.2d 521, 522 (C.A.2d Cir.); United States v. Scully, 225 F.2d 113, 115 (C.A.2d Cir.); United States v. Gilboy, 160 F.Supp. 442 (D.C.M.D.Pa.). A grand jury witness, who may be a suspect, is interrogated and his answers, at least until today, are admissible in evidence at trial. And these provisions have been thought of as constitutional safeguards to persons suspected of an offense. Furthermore, until now, the Constitution has permitted the accused to be fingerprinted and to be identified in a lineup or in the courtroom itself.

The Court chooses to ignore these matters, and to rely on the virtues and morality of a system of criminal law enforcement which does not depend on the "confession." No such judgment is to be found in the Constitution. It might be appropriate for a legislature to provide that a suspect should not be consulted during a criminal investigation; that an accused should never be called before a grand jury to answer, even if he wants to, what may well be incriminating questions, and that no person, whether he be a suspect, guilty criminal or innocent bystander, should be put to the ordeal of responding to orderly noncompulsory inquiry by the State. But this is not the system our Constitution requires. The only "inquisitions" the Constitution forbids are those which compel incrimination. Escobedo's statements were not compelled, and the Court does not hold that they were.

This new American judges' rule, which is to be applied in both federal and state courts, is perhaps thought to be a necessary safeguard against the possibility of extorted confessions. To this extent, it reflects a deep-seated distrust of law enforcement officers everywhere, unsupported by relevant data or current material based upon our own [p378] experience. Obviously law enforcement officers can make mistakes and exceed their authority, as today's decision shows that even judges can do, but I have somewhat more faith than the Court evidently has in the ability and desire of prosecutors and of the power of the appellate courts to discern and correct such violations of the law.

The Court may be concerned with a narrower matter: the unknowing defendant who responds to police questioning because he mistakenly believes that he must and that his admissions will not be used against him. But this worry hardly calls for the broadside the Court has now fired. The failure to inform an accused that he need not answer and that his answers may be used against him is very relevant indeed to whether the disclosures are compelled. Cases in this Court, to say the least, have never placed a premium on ignorance of constitutional rights. If an accused is told he must answer and does not know better, it would be very doubtful that the resulting admissions could be used against him. When the accused has not been informed of his rights at all, the Court characteristically and properly looks very closely at the surrounding circumstances. See Ward v. Texas, 316 U.S. 547; Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596; Payne v. Arkansas, 356 U.S. 560. I would continue to do so. But, in this case, Danny Escobedo knew full well that he did not have to answer, and knew full well that his lawyer had advised him not to answer.

I do not suggest for a moment that law enforcement will be destroyed by the rule announced today. The need for peace and order is too insistent for that. But it will be crippled, and its task made a great deal more difficult, all, in my opinion, for unsound, unstated reasons which can find no home in any of the provisions of the Constitution.

"[I]t seems from reported cases that the judges have given up enforcing their own rules, for it is no longer the practice to exclude evidence obtained by questioning in custody. . . . A traditional principle of 'fairness' to criminals, which has quite possibly lost some of the reason for its existence, is maintained in words while it is disregarded in fact. . . ."

"The reader may be expecting at this point a vigorous denunciation of the police and of the judges, and a plea for a return to the Judges' Rules as interpreted in 1930. What has to be considered, however, is whether these Rules are a workable part of the machinery of justice. Perhaps the truth is that the Rules have been abandoned, by tacit consent, just because they are an unreasonable restriction upon the activities of the police in bringing criminals to book."

Williams, Questioning by the Police: Some Practical Considerations, [1960] Crim.L.Rev. 325, 331-332. See also [1964] Crim.L.Rev. 161-182.