Oregon v. Elstad
Brief Fact Summary. An individual was convicted of burglary. A signed confession was used to convict him. He was questioned without the benefit of Miranda warnings.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “[A] suspect who has once responded to unwarned yet uncoercive questioning is not thereby disabled from waiving his rights and confessing after he has been given the requisite Miranda warnings.”
Facts. The Respondent, Michael James Elstad (the “Respondent”), was arrested for burglary after a witness contacted the police. After obtaining the witness’ tip, two officers went to the Respondent’s home with a warrant for his arrest. The Respondent’s mother answered the door and led the officers to her son’s bedroom. The officers asked the Respondent to get dressed and accompany them to the living room. After one of the officers took the Respondent’s mother into another room, the other officer, without giving the Respondent his Miranda warnings, got him to say he was present during the robbery.
The Respondent was put into a police car and transported to the police station where one of the officers finally advised him of his Miranda rights. The Respondent said he understood his rights and agreed to speak to the officers. Thereafter, he recounted to the officers how he participated in the burglary. The statement was then put in writing. The writing included a statement that another individual gave the Respondent a small bag of grass.
Before trial, the Respondent moved to suppress his oral statement and signed confession. The Respondent argued “the statement he made in response to questioning at his house ‘let the cat out of the bag’, and tainted the subsequent confession as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’ “The judge ruled that the statement, ‘I was there,’ had to be excluded because the defendant had not been advised of his Miranda rights. The written confession taken after Elstad’s arrival at the Sheriff’s office, however, was admitted in evidence. The court found: “his written statement was given freely, voluntarily and knowingly by the defendant after he had waived his right to remain silent and have counsel present which waiver was evidenced by the card which the defendant had signed. [It] was not tainted in any way by the previous brief statement between the defendant and the Sheriff’s Deputies that had arrested him.” The Respondent was found guilty.
The Oregon Court of Appeals “reversed respondent’s conviction, identifying the crucial constitutional inquiry as ‘whether there was a sufficient break in the stream of events between [the] inadmissible statement and the written confession to insulate the latter statement from the effect of what went before.’ The court held “[r]egardless of the absence of actual compulsion, the coercive impact of the unconstitutionally obtained statement remains, because in a defendant’s mind it has sealed his fate. It is this impact that must be dissipated in order to make a subsequent confession admissible. In determining whether it has been dissipated, lapse of time, and change of place from the original surroundings are the most important considerations.” Further, “[b]ecause of the brief period separating the two incidents, the ‘cat was sufficiently out of the bag to exert a coercive impact on [respondent"s] later admissions.’ ”
The Oregon Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Issue. “[W]hether an initial failure of law enforcement officers to administer the warnings required by [Miranda v. Arizona], without more, ‘taints’ subsequent admissions made after a suspect has been fully advised of and has waived his Miranda rights[?]”