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Escobedo v. Illinois

The Supreme Court Confirms A Criminal Suspect's Right To Have An Attorney

Earlier that year, in Massiah v. United States (1964), the Court had thrown out a criminal confession obtained without benefit of counsel. But the outcome in Massiah rested on the fact that the confession had been obtained after criminal proceedings had begun but before the accused had retained a lawyer. Now the Court was confronted with a situation that involved a confession obtained without benefit of counsel before the suspect had been indicted. Justice Goldberg, writing for the Court, held that under the circumstances in Escobedo, a confession was equally inadmissible:

[W]here, as here, the investigation is no longer a general inquiry into an unsolved crime but has begun to focus on a particular suspect, the suspect has been taken into police custody, the police carry out a process of interrogations that lends itself to eliciting incriminating statements, the suspect has requested and been denied an opportunity to consult with his lawyer, and the police have not effectively warned him of his absolute constitutional right to remain silent, the accused has been denied "the Assistance of Counsel" in violation of the Sixth Amendment . . .

Escobedo enlarged the Court's holding in Massiah, but the particularity of Justice Goldberg's opinion left some doubt as to just how to apply the new ruling. On the one hand, the Escobedo Court provided little clear guidance as to when the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is triggered; on the other, the circumstances laid out in the opinion seemed so specific that the Court seemed only to be addressing Danny Escobedo's case.

The sub-text of Escobedo, the Fifth Amendment prohibition against compulsory self-incrimination, became the focus two years later of another right-to-counsel case, Miranda v. Arizona (1966). Miranda proved to be an even more controversial decision, in part because it clearly stated that in order to avoid Fifth Amendment problems, criminal suspects must be alerted not only to their right to remain silent, but to their right to be represented by a lawyer. And instead of waiting until some rather ill-defined moment when a detainee becomes a primary suspect, as in Escobedo, after Miranda police were on notice that the right to counsel is activated when an individual is taken into custody. Miranda clarified the import of Escobedo by stating plainly that the only way to preserve a criminal suspect's privilege against self-incrimination was to provide him or her with the opportunity to retain a lawyer as soon as possible.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Escobedo v. Illinois - Significance, The Supreme Court Confirms A Criminal Suspect's Right To Have An Attorney, The Right To Counsel