skip navigation

CRS Annotated Constitution

Sixth Amendment -- Table of ContentsPrev | Next

Lineups and Other Identification Situations.—The concept of the “critical stage” was again expanded and its rationale formulated in United States v. Wade,273 which, with Gilbert v. California,274 held that lineups are a critical stage and that in–court identification of defendants based on out–of–court lineups or show–ups without the presence of defendant’s counsel is inadmissible. The Sixth Amendment guarantee, said Justice Brennan, was intended to do away with the common–law limitation of assistance of counsel to matters of law, excluding matters of fact. The abolition of the fact–law distinction took on new importance due to the changes in investigation and prosecution since adoption of the Sixth Amendment. “When the Bill of Rights was adopted there were no organized police forces as we know them today. The accused confronted the prosecutor and the witnesses against him and the evidence was marshalled, largely at the trial itself. In contrast, today’s law enforcement machinery involves critical confrontations of the accused by the prosecution at pretrial proceedings where the results might well settle the accused’s fate and reduce the trial itself to a mere formality. In recognition of these reali275

“It is central to [the principle of Powell v. Alabama] that in addition to counsel’s presence at trial, the accused is guaranteed that he need not stand alone against the State at any stage of the prosecution, formal or informal, in court or out, where counsel’s absence might derogate from the accused’s right to a fair trial.”276 Counsel’s presence at a lineup is constitutionally necessary because the lineup stage is filled with numerous possibilities for errors, both inadvertent and intentional, which cannot adequately be discovered[p.1445]and remedied at trial.277 However, because there was less certainty and frequency of possible injustice at this stage, the Court held that the two cases were to be given prospective effect only; more egregious instances, where identification had been based upon lineups conducted in a manner that was unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistaken identification, could be invalidated under the due process clause.278 The Wade–Gilbert rule is inapplicable to other methods of obtaining identification and other evidentiary material relating to the defendant, such as blood samples, handwriting exemplars, and the like, because there is minimal risk that the absence of counsel might derogate from the defendant’s right to a fair trial.279

In United States v. Ash,280 the Court redefined and modified its “critical stage” analysis. According to the Court, the “core purpose” of the guarantee of counsel is to assure assistance at trial “when the accused was confronted with both the intricacies of the law and the advocacy of the public prosecutor.” But assistance would be less than meaningful in the light of developments in criminal investigation and procedure if it were limited to the formal trial itself; therefore, counsel is compelled at “pretrial events that might appropriately be considered to be parts of the trial itself. At these newly emerging and significant events, the accused was confronted, just as at trial, by the procedural system, or by his expert adversary, or by both.”281 Therefore, unless at the pretrial stage there was involved the physical presence of the accused at a trial–like confrontation at which the accused requires the guiding[p.1446]hand of counsel, the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee the assistance of counsel.

Since the defendant was not present when witnesses to the crime viewed photographs of possible guilty parties, since therefore there was no trial–like confrontation, and since the possibilities of abuse in a photographic display are discoverable and reconstructable at trial by examination of witnesses, an indicted defendant is not entitled to have his counsel present at such a display.282

Both Wade and Gilbert had already been indicted and counsel had been appointed to represent them when their lineups were conducted, a fact noted in the opinions and in subsequent ones,283 but the cases in which the rulings were denied retroactive application involved preindictment lineups.284 Nevertheless, in Kirby v. Illinois285 the Court held that no right to counsel existed with respect to lineups that precede some formal act of charging a suspect. The Sixth Amendment does not become operative, explained Justice Stewart’s plurality opinion, until “the initiation of adversary judicial criminal proceedings— whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearings, indictment, information, or arraignment. . . . The initiation of judicial criminal proceedings is far from a mere formalism. It is the starting point of our whole system of adversary criminal justice. For it is only then that the Government has committed itself to prosecute, and only then that the adverse positions of Government and defendant have solidified. It is then that a defendant finds himself faced with the prosecutorial forces of organized society, and immersed in the intricacies of substantive and procedural criminal law. It is this point, therefore, that marks the commencement of the ‘criminal prosecutions’ to which alone the explicit guarantees of the Sixth Amendm286 The[p.1447]Court’s distinguishing of the underlying basis for Miranda v. Arizona287 left that case basically unaffected by Kirby, but it appears that Escobedo v. Illinois,288 and perhaps other cases, is greatly restricted thereby.

Post–Conviction Proceedings.—Counsel is required at the sentencing stage,289 and the Court has held that where sentencing was deferred after conviction and the defendant was placed on probation, he must be afforded counsel at a hearing on revocation of probation and imposition of the deferred sentence.290 Beyond this stage, however, it would appear that the issue of counsel at hearings on the granting of parole or probation, the revocation of parole which has been imposed following sentencing, and prison disciplinary hearings will be determined according to due process and equal protection standards rather than by further expansion of the Sixth Amendment.291

Noncriminal and Investigatory Proceedings.—Commitment proceedings which lead to the imposition of essentially criminal punishment are subject to the due process clause and require the assistance of counsel.292 A state administrative investigation by a fire marshal inquiring into the causes of a fire was held not to be a criminal proceeding and hence, despite the fact that the petitioners had been committed to jail for noncooperation, not the type of hearing at which counsel was requisite.293 Another decision refused to extend the right to counsel to investigative proceedings antedating a criminal prosecution, and sustained the contempt conviction of private detectives who refused to testify before a judge[p.1448]authorized to conduct a non–prosecutorial, fact–finding inquiry akin to a grand jury proceeding, and who based their refusal on the ground that their counsel were required to remain outside the hearing room.294


273 388 U.S. 218 (1967) .
274 388 U.S. 263 (1967) .
275 United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 224–25 (1967) (citations omitted).
276 Id. at 226 (citations omitted).
277 Id. at 227–39. Previously, the manner of an extra–judicial identification affected only the weight, not the admissibility, of identification testimony at trial. Justices White, Harlan, and Stewart dissented, denying any objective need for the Court’s per se rule and doubting its efficacy in any event. Id. at 250.
278 Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293 (1967) .
279 Gilbert v. California, 388 U.S. 263, 265–67 (1967) (handwriting exemplars); Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 765–66 (1966) (blood samples).
280 413 U.S. 300 (1973) . Justices Brennan, Douglas, and Marshall dissented. Id. at 326.
281 Id. at 309–10, 312–13. Justice Stewart, concurring on other grounds, rejected this analysis, id. at 321, as did the three dissenters. Id. at 326, 338–344. “The fundamental premise underlying all of this Court’s decisions holding the right to counsel applicable at “critical’ pretrial proceedings, is that a ‘stage’ of the prosecution must be deemed ‘critical’ for the purposes of the Sixth Amendment if it is one at which the presence of counsel is necessary ‘to protect the fairness of the trial itself.”’ Id. at 339 (Justice Brennan dissenting). Examination of defendant by court–appointed psychiatrist to determine his competency to stand trial, after his indictment, was a “critical” stage, and he was entitled to the assistance of counsel before submitting to it. Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454, 469–71 (1981) . Constructive notice is insufficient to alert counsel to psychiatric examination to assess future dangerousness of an indicted client. Satterwhite v. Texas, 486 U.S. 249 (1987) (also subjecting Estelle v. Smith violations to harmless error analysis in capital cases).
282 413U.S. at 317–21 413U.S. at 317–21. On the due process standards of identification procedure, see infra p.1752.
283 United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 219, 237 (1967) ; Gilbert v. California, 388 U.S. 263, 269, 272 (1967) : Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 382–83 (1968) .
284 Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293 (1967) ; Foster v. California, 394 U.S. 440 (1969) ; Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1 (1970) .
285 406 U.S. 682, 689 (1972) .
286 Id. at 689–90. Justices Brennan, Douglas, and Marshall, dissenting, argued that it had never previously been doubted that Wade and Gilbert applied in preindictment lineup situations and that in any event the rationale of the rule was no different whatever the formal status of the case. Id. at 691. Justice White, a dissenter in Wade and Gilbert, dissented simply on the basis that those two cases controlled this one. Id. at 705. Indictment, as the quotation from Kirby indicates, is not a necessary precondition. Any initiation of judicial proceedings suffices. E.g., Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977) (suspect had been seized pursuant to an arrest warrant, arraigned, and committed by court). United States v. Gouveia, 467 U.S. 180 (1984) (Sixth Amendment attaches as of arraignment—there is no right to counsel for prison inmates placed under administrative segregation during a lengthy investigation of their participation in prison crimes).
287 “[T]he Miranda decision was based exclusively upon the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment privilege against compulsory self– incrimination, upon the theory that custodial interrogation is inherently coercive.” 406 U.S. 688, (Emphasis by Court).
288 “But Escobedo is not apposite here for two distinct reasons. First, the Court in retrospect perceived that the ‘prime purpose’ of Escobedo was not to vindicate the constitutional right to counsel as such, but, like Miranda, ‘to guarantee full effectuation of the privilege against self–incrimination. . . .’ Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719, 729. Secondly, and perhaps even more important for purely practical purposes, the Court has limited the holding of Escobedo to its own facts, Johnson v. New Jersey, supra, at 733–34, and those facts are not remotely akin to the facts of the case before us.” Id. at 689. But see id. at 693 n.3 (Justice Brennan dissenting).
289 Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736 (1948) .
290 Mempa v. Rhay, 389 U.S. 128 (1967) (applied retroactively in McConnell v. Rhay, 393 U.S. 2 (1968) ).
291 Counsel is not a guaranteed right in prison disciplinary proceedings. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 560–70 (1974) ; Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 314–15 (1976) . Other cases are assembled infra under analysis of the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause.
292 Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605 (1967) .
293 In re Groban, 352 U.S. 330 (1957) . Four Justices dissented.
294 Anonymous v. Baker, 360 U.S. 287 (1959) . Four Justices dissented.
Sixth Amendment -- Table of ContentsPrev | Next