Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 778 (May. 26, 2009)

The defendant was arrested for murder, waived his Miranda rights, and gave statements in response to officers’ interrogation. He was brought before a judge for a preliminary hearing, who ordered that the defendant be held without bond and appointed counsel to represent him. Later that day, two officers visited the defendant in prison and asked him to accompany them to locate the murder weapon. He was again read his Miranda rights and agreed to go with the officers. During the trip, he wrote an inculpatory letter of apology to the murder victim’s widow. Only on his return did the defendant finally meet his court-appointed attorney. The issue before the Court was whether the letter of apology was erroneously admitted in violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. In Michigan v. Jackson, 475 U.S. 625 (1986), the Court had ruled that when a defendant requests counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding at which the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches, an officer is thereafter prohibited under the Sixth Amendment from initiating interrogation. In this case, the defendant was appointed counsel as a matter of course per state law; no specific request for counsel was made. Instead of deciding whether Jackson barred the officers from initiating interrogation of the defendant after counsel was appointed, the Court overruled Jackson. Thus, it now appears that the Sixth Amendment is not violated when officers interrogate a defendant after the defendant has requested counsel, provided a waiver of the right to counsel is obtained. The Court hinted that a standard Miranda waiver will suffice to waive both the Fifth Amendment right to counsel and Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Court remanded the case to the state court to determine unresolved factual and legal issues. Note that after Montejo, a defendant’s 5th Amendment right to counsel under Miranda for custodial interrogations remains intact.