• Last updated on November 11, 2022

In one of a series of cases expanding the rights of criminal defendants, the Supreme Court held that the prosecution may not use evidence deliberately elicited from an indicted defendant when not in the presence of counsel.

After a federal grand jury indicted Winston Massiah and a codefendant on charges of transporting cocaine from South America, Massiah retained a lawyer and was released on bail. He then met with the codefendant who had secretly become a government informant, and Massiah made incriminating statements that were overheard by a federal agent. At the subsequent trial, the judge allowed the agent to testify about the content of the conversation. After Massiah was found guilty in a trial, his lawyers appealed and referred to Spano v. New York[case]Spano v. New York[Spano v. New York] (1959), in which the Court had considered the totality of circumstances in holding that the prosecution could not use an involuntary confession elicited from a defendant after his indictment.Counsel, right to;Massiah v. United States[Massiah v. United States]Exclusionary rule;Massiah v. United States[Massiah v. United States]

By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court overturned Massiah’s conviction and ruled that the overheard statements could not be introduced as evidence in a criminal trial. Speaking for the majority, Justice Potter StewartStewart, Potter;Massiah v. United States[Massiah v. United States] based the decision almost entirely on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Once adversary proceedings begin, the defendant has the right to counsel, and therefore, the prosecution may not use any evidence elicited from the defendant outside the presence of a lawyer unless the defendant waives the right. In a strong dissent, Justice Byron R. White argued that the exclusionary rule was not necessary in this situation because there had been “no inherent danger of police coercion.”

Massiah was the first confession case that explicitly relied on Sixth Amendment analysis. That same year, the Court in Escobedo v. Illinois[case]Escobedo v. Illinois[Escobedo v. Illinois] (1964) held that the right to counsel begins when the suspect becomes the focus of investigation. The Court applied and expanded the prohibition on the elicitation of information from suspects absent counsel in Brewer v. Williams[case]Brewer v. Williams[Brewer v. Williams] (1977).

Counsel, right to

Due process, procedural

Escobedo v. Illinois

Miranda v. Arizona

Self-incrimination, immunity against

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