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Brewer v. Williams

United States Supreme Court
430 U.S. 387 (1977)



Williams (defendant) had escaped from a mental institution and was suspected of kidnapping a young girl from a YMCA in Des Moines. The Des Moines police issued a warrant for his arrest. Two days after the abduction, and after consulting with a Des Moines attorney who advised him not to talk to the police, Williams turned himself in to the Davenport police where he was arrested pursuant to the outstanding warrant. Williams’ attorney in Des Moines arranged for two officers to go pick Williams up in Davenport, and they agreed not to question Williams during the 160 mile trip back to Des Moines. Williams was arraigned in Davenport and he was able to consult with a Davenport attorney who advised him not to say anything until he arrived back in Des Moines and could talk with his attorney there. Before putting him in the police car for the ride back to Des Moines, the attorney in Davenport again reiterated to the police that they were not to question Williams during the trip. Once in the car, Williams told the police that he would tell them everything that happened once they got back to Des Moines and he could talk with his lawyer. However, one of the officers then delivered the “Christian burial speech.” The officer told Williams that he was not asking him any questions, but he just wanted Williams to think about something on the ride back to Des Moines. He wanted Williams to think about how bad the weather was outside, that it was going to snow, that the snow would cover the girl’s body, and the police may never be able to recover it and give her the chance at a proper Christian burial. The officer knew that Williams had escaped from a mental institution and also that he was very religious. The officer also testified that his statement was intended to get information from Williams. A few hours into the trip, Williams eventually told the police to stop and showed them where the body was hidden. Williams was indicted for first-degree murder. The trial judge denied Williams’ motion to suppress all evidence resulting from his statements made in the police car, holding that the officer’s “Christian burial speech” amounted to interrogation but that Williams had waived his right to have an attorney present when he began speaking to the police in the car. Applying the totality of the circumstances test to hold that Williams had waived his right to counsel, the state supreme court affirmed. The federal district court granted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus holding that as a matter of law the evidence resulting from Williams’ statements made in the car were wrongly admitted at trial. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the state failed to establish that Williams intentionally waived his right to have counsel present.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Stewart, J.)

Concurrence (Stevens, J.)

Concurrence (Marshall, J.)

Concurrence (Powell, J.)

Dissent (Blackmun, J.)

Dissent (Burger, C.J.)

Dissent (White, J.)

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