McNeil v. Wisconsin (90-5319), 501 U.S. 171 (1991)
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NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

No. 90-5319


[June 13, 1991]

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether an accused's invocation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel during a judicial proceeding constitutes an invocation of his Miranda right to counsel.


Petitioner Paul McNeil was arrested in Omaha, Nebraska, in May 1987, pursuant to a warrant charging him with an armed robbery in West Allis, Wisconsin, a suburb of Mil waukee. Shortly after his arrest, two Milwaukee County deputy sheriffs arrived in Omaha to retrieve him. After advising him of his Miranda rights, the deputies sought to question him. He refused to answer any questions, but did not request an attorney. The deputies promptly ended the interview.

Once back in Wisconsin, petitioner was brought before a Milwaukee County court commissioner on the armed robbery charge. The Commissioner set bail and scheduled a preliminary examination. An attorney from the Wisconsin Public Defender's office represented petitioner at this initial appearance.

Later that evening, Detective Joseph Butts of the Mil waukee County Sheriff's Department visited petitioner in jail. Butts had been assisting the Racine County, Wisconsin, police in their investigation of a murder, attempted mur-der, and armed burglary in the town of Caledonia; petitioner was a suspect. Butts advised petitioner of his Miranda rights, and petitioner signed a form waiving them. In this first interview, petitioner did not deny knowledge of the Caledonia crimes, but said that he had not been involved.

Butts returned two days later with detectives from Cale donia. He again began the encounter by advising petitioner of his Miranda rights, and providing a waiver form. Petitioner placed his initials next to each of the warnings and signed the form. This time, petitioner admitted that he had been involved in the Caledonia crimes, which he described in detail. He also implicated two other men, Willie Pope and Lloyd Crowley. The statement was typed up by a detective and given to petitioner to review. Petitioner placed his initials next to every reference to himself and signed every page.

Butts and the Caledonia Police returned two days later, having in the meantime found and questioned Pope, who convinced them that he had not been involved in the Caledonia crimes. They again began the interview by administering the Miranda warnings, and obtaining petitioner's signature and initials on the waiver form. Petitioner acknowledged that he had lied about Pope's involvement to minimize his own role in the Caledonia crimes, and provided another statement recounting the events, which was transcribed, signed, and initialed as before.

The following day, petitioner was formally charged with the Caledonia crimes and transferred to that jurisdiction. His pretrial motion to suppress the three incriminating statements was denied. He was convicted of second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and armed robbery, and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

On appeal, petitioner argued that the trial court's refusal to suppress the statements was reversible error. He contended that his courtroom appearance with an attorney forthe West Allis crime constituted an invocation of the Mi randa right to counsel, and that any subsequent waiver of that right during police-initiated questioning regarding any offense was invalid. Observing that the State's Supreme Court had never addressed this issue, the Court of Appeals certified to that court the following question:

"Does an accused's request for counsel at an initial appearance on a charged offense constitute an invocation of his fifth amendment right to counsel that precludes police interrogation on unrelated, uncharged offenses?" App. 16.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court answered "no." 155 Wis. 2d 24, 454 N. W. 2d 742 (1990). We granted certiorari, 498 U. S. — (1990).


The Sixth Amendment provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." In Michigan v. Jackson, 475 U.S. 625 (1986), we held that once this right to counsel has attached and has been invoked, any subsequent waiver during a police-initiated custodial interview is ineffective. It is undisputed, and we accept for purposes of the present case, that at the time petitioner provided the incriminating statements at issue, his Sixth Amendment right had attached and had been invoked with respect to the West Allis armed robbery, for which he had been formally charged.

The Sixth Amendment right, however, is offense-specific. It cannot be invoked once for all future prosecutions, for it does not attach until a prosecution is commenced, that is, " `at or after the initiation of adversary judicial criminal proceedings — whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment.' " United States v. Gouveia, 467 U.S. 180, 188 (1984) (quoting Kirby v. Illinois, 406 U.S. 682, 689 (1972) (plurality opinion)). And just as the right is offense-specific, so also its Michigan v. Jackson effect of invalidating subsequent waivers in police-initiated interviews is offense-specific.

"The police have an interest . . . in investigating new or additional crimes [after an individual is formally charged with one crime.] . . . [T]o exclude evidence pertaining to charges as to which the Sixth Amendment right to counsel had not attached at the time the evidence was obtained, simply because other charges were pending at that time, would unnecessarily frustrate the public's interest in the investigation of criminal activities. . . ." Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159, 179-180 (1985).

"Incriminating statements pertaining to other crimes, as to which the Sixth Amendment right has not yet attached, are, of course, admissible at a trial of those offenses." Id., at 180, n. 16.

See also Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 431 (1986). Because petitioner provided the statements at issue here before his Sixth Amendment right to counsel with respect to the Caledonia offenses had been (or even could have been) invoked, that right poses no bar to the admission of the statements in this case.

Petitioner relies, however, upon a different "right to counsel," found not in the text of the Sixth Amendment, but in this Court's jurisprudence relating to the Fifth Amendment guarantee that "[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), we established a number of prophylactic rights designed to counteract the "inherently compelling pressures" of custodial interrogation, including the right to have counsel present. Miranda did not hold, however, that those rights could not be waived. On the contrary, the opinion recognized that statements elicited during custodial interrogation would be admissible if the prosecution could establish that the suspect "knowingly and intelligently waived his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to retained or appointed counsel." Id., at 475.

In Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), we established a second layer of prophylaxis for the Miranda right to counsel: once a suspect asserts the right, not only must the current interrogation cease, but he may not be approached for further interrogation "until counsel has been made available to him," 451 U. S., at 484-485 — which means, we have most recently held, that counsel must be present, Minnick v. Mississippi, 498 U. S. — (1990). If the police do subsequently initiate an encounter in the absence of counsel (assuming there has been no break in custody), the suspect's statements are presumed involuntary and therefore inadmissible as substantive evidence at trial, even where the suspect executes a waiver and his statements would be considered voluntary under traditional standards. This is "designed to prevent police from badgering a defendant into waiving his previously asserted Miranda rights," Michigan v. Harvey, 494 U.S. 344, 350 (1990). The Edwards rule, moreover, is not offense-specific: once a suspect invokes the Miranda right to counsel for interrogation regarding one offense, he may not be reapproached regarding any offense unless counsel is present. Arizona v. Roberson, 486 U.S. 675 (1988).

Having described the nature and effects of both the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the Miranda-Edwards "Fifth Amendment" right to counsel, we come at last to the issue here: Petitioner seeks to prevail by combining the two of them. He contends that, although he expressly waived his Miranda right to counsel on every occasion he was interrogated, those waivers were the invalid product of im permissible approaches, because his prior invocation of the offense-specific Sixth Amendment right with regard to the West Allis burglary was also an invocation of the non-offensespecific Miranda-Edwards right. We think that is false as a matter of fact and inadvisable (if even permissible) as a contrary-to-fact presumption of policy.

As to the former: The purpose of the Sixth Amendment counsel guarantee — and hence the purpose of invoking it — is to "protec[t] the unaided layman at critical confrontations" with his "expert adversary," the government, after "the adverse positions of government and defendant have solidified" with respect to a particular alleged crime. Gouveia, 467 U. S., at 189. The purpose of the Miranda-Edwards guarantee, on the other hand — and hence the purpose of invoking it — is to protect a quite different interest: the suspect's "desire to deal with the police only through counsel," Edwards, 451 U. S., at 484. This is in one respect narrower than the interest protected by the Sixth Amendment guarantee (because it relates only to custodial interrogation) and in another respect broader (because it relates to interrogation regarding any suspected crime and attaches whether or not the "adversarial relationship" produced by a pending prosecution has yet arisen). To invoke the Sixth Amendment interest is, as a matter of fact, not to invoke the Miranda-Edwards in terest. One might be quite willing to speak to the police without counsel present concerning many matters, but not the matter under prosecution. It can be said, perhaps, that it is likely that one who has asked for counsel's assistance in defending against a prosecution would want counsel present for all custodial interrogation, even interrogation unrelated to the charge. That is not necessarily true, since suspects often believe that they can avoid the laying of charges by demonstrating an assurance of innocence through frank and unassisted answers to questions. But even if it were true, the likelihood that a suspect would wish counsel to be pres ent is not the test for applicability of Edwards. The rule of that case applies only when the suspect "ha[s] expressed" his wish for the particular sort of lawyerly assistance that is the subject of Miranda. Edwards, supra, at 484 (emphasis added). It requires, at a minimum, some statement that can reasonably be construed to be expression of a desire for the assistance of an attorney in dealing with custodial interrogation by the police. Requesting the assistance of an attorney at a bail hearing does not bear that construction. "[T]o find that [the defendant] invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel on the present charges merely by requesting the appointment of counsel at his arraignment on the unrelated charge is to disregard the ordinary meaning of that request." State v. Stewart, 113 Wash. 2d 462, 471, 780 P. 2d 844, 849 (1989), cert. denied, 494 U. S. — (1990).

Our holding in Michigan v. Jackson, 475 U.S. 625 (1986), does not, as petitioner asserts, contradict the foregoing distinction; to the contrary, it rests upon it. That case, it will be recalled, held that after the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches and is invoked, any statements obtained from the accused during subsequent police-initiated custodial questioning regarding the charge at issue (even if the accused purports to waive his rights) are inadmissible. The State in Jackson opposed that outcome on the ground that assertion of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel did not realistically constitute the expression (as Edwards required) of a wish to have counsel present during custodial interrogation. See 475 U. S., at 632-633. Our response to that contention was not that it did constitute such an expression, but that it did not have to, since the relevant question was not whether the Miranda "Fifth Amendment" right had been asserted, but whether the Sixth Amendment right to counsel had been waived. We said that since our "settled approach to questions of waiver requires us to give a broad, rather than a narrow, interpretation to a defendant's request for counsel, . . . we presume that the defendant requests the lawyer's services at every critical stage of the prosecution." 475 U. S., at 633 (emphasis added). The holding of Jackson implicitly rejects any equivalence in fact between invocation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the expression necessary to trigger Edwards. If such invocation constituted a real (as opposed to merely a legally presumed) request for the assistance of counsel in custodial interrogation, it would have been quite unnecessary for Jackson to go on to establish, as it did, a new Sixth Amendment rule of no policeinitiated interrogation; we could simply have cited and relied upon Edwards. [n.1]

There remains to be considered the possibility that, even though the assertion of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel does not in fact imply an assertion of the Miranda "Fifth Amendment" right, we should declare it to be such as a matter of sound policy. Assuming we have such an expansive power under the Constitution, it would not wisely be exercised. Petitioner's proposed rule has only insignificant advantages. If a suspect does not wish to communicate with the police except through an attorney, he can simply tell them that when they give him the Miranda warnings. There is not the remotest chance that he will feel "badgered" by their asking to talk to him without counsel present, since the subject will not be the charge on which he has already requested counsel's assistance (for in that event Jackson would preclude initiation of the interview) and he will not have rejected uncounseled interrogation on any subject before (for in that event Edwards would preclude initiation of the interview). The proposed rule would, however, seriously impede effective law enforcement. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches at the first formal proceeding against an accused, and in most States, at least with respect to serious offenses, free counsel is made available at that time and or dinarily requested. Thus, if we were to adopt petitioner's rule, most persons in pretrial custody for serious offenses would be unapproachable by police officers suspecting them of involvement in other crimes, even though they have never expressed any unwillingness to be questioned. Since the ready ability to obtain uncoerced confessions is not an evil but an unmitigated good, society would be the loser. Admissions of guilt resulting from valid Miranda waivers "are more than merely `desirable'; they are essential to society's com pelling interest in finding, convicting, and punishing those who violate the law." Moran, 475 U. S., at 426 (citation omitted). [n.2]

Petitioner urges upon us the desirability of providing a "clear and unequivocal" guideline for the police: no policeinitiated questioning of any person in custody who has requested counsel to assist him in defense or in interrogation. But the police do not need our assistance to establish such a guideline; they are free, if they wish, to adopt it on their own. Of course it is our task to establish guidelines for judicial review. We like them to be "clear and unequivocal," see, e. g., Roberson, 486 U. S., at 681-682, but only when they guide sensibly, and in a direction we are authorized to go. Petitioner's proposal would in our view do much more harm than good, and is not contained within, or even in furtherance of, the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel or the Fifth Amendment's right against compelled self-incrimination. [n.3]

* * *

"This Court is forever adding new stories to the temples of constitutional law, and the temples have a way of collapsing when one story too many is added." Douglas v. Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 181 (1943) (opinion of Jackson, J.). We decline to add yet another story to Miranda. The judgment of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is



1 A footnote in Jackson, 475 U. S., at 633-634, n. 7, quoted with approval statements by the Michigan Supreme Court to the effect that the average person does not " `understand and appreciate the subtle distinctions between the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to counsel,' " that it " `makes little sense to afford relief from further interrogation to a defendant who asks a police officer for an attorney, but permit further interrogation to a defendant who makes an identical request to a judge,' " and that " `[t]he simple fact that defendant has requested an attorney in dicates that he does not believe that he is sufficiently capable of dealing with his adversaries singlehandedly.' " Michigan v. Bladel, 421 Mich. 39, 63-64, 365 N. W. 2d 56, 67 (1984). Those observations were perhaps true in the context of deciding whether a request for the assistance of counsel in defending against a particular charge implied a desire to have that counsel serve as an "intermediary" for all further interrogation on that charge. They are assuredly not true in the quite different context of deciding whether such a request implies a desire never to undergo cus todial interrogation, about anything, without counsel present.

2 The dissent condemns these sentiments as "revealing a preference for an inquisitorial system of justice." Post, at 6. We cannot imagine what this means. What makes a system adversarial rather than inquisitorial is not the presence of counsel, much less the presence of counsel where the defendant has not requested it; but rather, the presence of a judge who does not (as an inquisitor does) conduct the factual and legal investigation himself, but instead decides on the basis of facts and arguments pro and con adduced by the parties. In the inquisitorial criminal process of the civil law, the defendant ordinarily has counsel; and in the adversarial criminal process of the common law, he sometimes does not. Our system of justice is, and has always been, an inquisitorial one at the investigatory stage (even the grand jury is an inquisitorial body), and no other disposition is conceivable. Even if detectives were to bring impartial magistrates around with them to all interrogations, there would be no decision for the impartial magistrate to umpire. If all the dissent means by a "preference for an inquisitorial system" is a preference not to require the presence of counsel during an investigatory interview where the interviewee has not requested it — that is a strange way to put it, but we are guilty.

3 The dissent predicts that the result in this case will routinely be circumvented when, "[i]n future preliminary hearings, competent counsel . . . make sure that they, or their clients, make a statement on the record" invoking the Miranda right to counsel. Post, at 2. We have in fact never held that a person can invoke his Miranda rights anticipatorily, in a context other than "custodial interrogation" — which a preliminary hearing will not always, or even usually, involve, cf. Pennsylvania v. Muniz, 496 U. S. —, — (1990) (slip op. 17-18) (plurality opinion); Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 298-303 (1980). If the Miranda right to counsel can be invoked at a preliminary hearing, it could be argued, there is no logical reason why it could not be invoked by a letter prior to arrest, or indeed even prior to identification as a suspect. Most rights must be asserted when the government seeks to take the action they protect against. The fact that we have allowed the Miranda right to counsel, once asserted, to be effective with respect to future custodial interrogation does not necessarily mean that we will allow it to be asserted initially outside the context of custodial interrogation, with similar future effect. Assuming, however, that an assertion at arraignment would be effective, and would be routinely made, the mere fact that adherence to the principle of our decisions will not have substantial consequences is no reason to abandon that principle. It would remain intolerable that a person in custody who had expressed no objection to being questioned would be unapproachable.