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Oregon v. Elstad

The Second Confession Is Admissible

In a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Oregon Court of Appeals, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Delivering the majority opinion, Justice O'Connor pointed out that a procedural Miranda violation differed in significant respects from violations of the Fourth Amendment invoked by the "fruit of the poisonous tree" metaphor. O'Connor emphasized that Miranda warnings were not a constitutional provision, but rather a protective measure to reinforce the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In this case there was no constitutional violation. Earlier precedents established that evidence obtained in violation of Miranda rights, though it was "fruit of the poisonous tree," could be used for purposes of impeachment or cross-examination. The Court concluded that it was an unwarranted extension of Miranda to hold that a simple failure to administer the warnings, unaccompanied by any actual coercion or undermining of the suspect's ability to exercise his free will, so tainted the investigatory process that a subsequent voluntary and informed waiver was ineffective for some indeterminate period.

The Court reasoned that the failure of the police to administer Miranda warnings did not mean that the statements received had actually been coerced, but that it should be presumed the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination had not been intelligently exercised. In this case, the Court held that the first confession was clearly voluntary. In such circumstances, the Court held, a careful and thorough administration of Miranda warnings served to cure the condition that had made the unwarned statement inadmissible. O'Connor also emphasized that the psychological effects of voluntary unwarned admissions should not have constitutional implications because they would practically immunize a suspect against the effect of statements made and disable the police from obtaining informed cooperation.

Referring to the issue of holding a suspect in custody without benefit of Miranda warnings, the U.S. Supreme Court felt that whatever the reason for the police officers' "oversight," the incident had no earmarks of coercion. O'Connor also noted that the police officers had not used the unwarned admission to pressure the respondent into waiving his right to remain silent. The respondent's attorney argued that Elstad had been unable to give a fully informed waiver of his rights because he had been unaware that his prior statement could not have been used against him. The attorney suggested that an additional warning should have been given when his client had been informed of Miranda warnings. The Court found that such a requirement was not constitutionally necessary.

The U.S. Supreme Court found no rationale for presuming coercive effect where the suspect's initial inculpatory statement, though technically in violation of Miranda, had been voluntary (although Miranda dictates that failure to administer its warnings creates a presumption of compulsion). The Court held that the relevant inquiry was whether the second statement had also been made voluntarily. Concluding the decision, Justice O'Connor wrote that the Court that day in no way retreated from Miranda's "bright-line" rule (a simple, practicable and effective rule). In this case it was enough to bar use of the unwarned statement pursuant to a voluntary and knowing waiver.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Oregon v. Elstad - Miranda Warnings, Inadmissible Confessions?, The Second Confession Is Admissible, Dissenting Opinions, Impact, Further Readings