Brief Fact Summary. The petitioner Danny Escobedo asked to speak with his lawyer while in police custody but before being formally charged and was denied.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Not allowing someone to speak with an attorney, and not advising them of their right to remain silent after they have been arrested and before they have been interrogated is a denial of assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment.
If the exercise of constitutional rights will thwart the effectiveness of a system of law enforcement, then there is something very wrong with that system.View Full Point of Law
Issue. If a suspect has been taken into police custody and interrogated by police without their request to see an attorney being honored, nor being advised of their right to remain silent, have they been denied effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment?
Held. Yes. Reverse the petitioner’s conviction and remand the case.
The Sixth Amendment protects the right to effective assistance of counsel. Here, because the police investigation focused on the accused as a suspect rather than a less specific investigation, refusing to allow an accused to speak with his attorney is a denial of this Sixth Amendment right. The incriminating statements he made must thus not be admitted into evidence.
A law enforcement system that relies too much on the confession is more subject to abuses than one that depends on evidence obtained through skillful investigation. The result here recognizes this idea.
Dissent. Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented on grounds that this result will place obstacles in the way of legitimate methods of criminal law enforcement. Also, he thought Cicenia v. Lagay, 357 U.S. 504 (1958) demanded a different result.
Justice Potter Stewart believed that the right to assistance of counsel should not arise until indictment or arraignment, and that this contrary result would cause problems for fair administration of criminal justice.
Justice Byron White expressed the opinion that this result would make statements made to police inadmissible without the accused waiving their right to counsel. He believed this would effectively render the “voluntariness” test of the Fourteenth Amendment useless, and make law enforcement more difficult.
Discussion. This case caused a lot of confusion for scholars, as some believed it had widespread application, and others thought it only applied to the specific facts here. There is a great deal of language within it that is very hostile to confessions, but at other points it says that “proper investigative efforts are appropriate.” It mentions that a subject asserting their rights should not be something the system is afraid of, but that it would render interrogation much less effective. This case is really best understood as the precursor to the warnings that would arise from.