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Illinois v. Perkins

A Coercive Atmosphere Is Lacking

In his opinion for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that Miranda warnings are not required when the suspect is unaware that he is speaking to a law enforcement officer and gives a voluntary statement. Miranda v. Arizona, gave rise to the Miranda warnings that are read to suspects when they are arrested. The warnings state that the person has a right to remain silent and that whatever a person says may be used against him in court. Kennedy noted that in Miranda, the Court held that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination prohibits admitting statements given by a suspect during "custodial interrogation" without prior warning. Miranda rights were formulated to make sure people did not incriminate themselves while in a "police-dominated atmosphere" which generates "compelling pressures." The Court held that conversations between suspects and undercover agents do not involve such an atmosphere or compulsion; an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone he thinks is a fellow inmate. When a suspect considers himself in the company of cellmates and not officers, the coercive atmosphere is lacking.

Miranda stated that the danger of coercion results from the interaction of custody and official interrogation. Kennedy rejected the argument that the Miranda warnings are required whenever a suspect is in custody and converses with someone who happens to be a government agent. When a suspect does not know that he is talking to a government agent, pressure does not exist. "Miranda forbids coercion, not mere strategic deception by taking advantage of a suspect's misplaced trust in one he supposes to be a fellow prisoner." Kennedy quoted Miranda: "Confessions remain a proper element in law enforcement. Any statement given freely and voluntarily without any compelling influences is, of course, admissible in evidence." Kennedy noted that ploys to mislead a suspect are not compulsion or coercion and Miranda was not meant to protect suspects from boasting about their criminal activities. The tactic used by the police in Perkins's case to elicit a voluntary confession does not violate the Self-incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

In several past cases the Court held that the government may not use an undercover agent to circumvent the Sixth Amendment right to counsel once a suspect has been charged with a crime. In this case, no charges had been filed against Perkins regarding the subject of the interrogation, the murder of Stephenson, thus the Sixth Amendment precedents did not apply here. Law enforcement officers will have little difficulty putting into practice the ruling that undercover agents need not give Miranda warnings to incarcerated suspects. Miranda warnings are not required to safeguard the constitutional rights of inmates who make voluntary statements to undercover agents. These statements are admissible at trial.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Illinois v. Perkins - Significance, A Coercive Atmosphere Is Lacking, Deception And Manipulation Practiced, Compulsion Includes Police Deception