Oregon V Elstad OREGON v ELSTAD 470 U.S. 298, 105 S. Ct. 1285, 84 L.Ed. 2d 222 (1985) MERITS: Officers Burke and McAllister of the Polk County, Oregon Sheriff’s office, on the basis of a witness’ statement, obtained an arrest warrant for Michael Elstad, who was suspected of burglary.
The officers went to Elstad’s home and were escorted to his room by his mother. After instructing the respondent to dress and accompany them to the living room, Officer McAllister took Elstad’s mother into the kitchen while Officer Burke stayed with the respondent. Without advising Elstad of his Miranda rights, Officer Burke asked him whether he was aware of the officer’s reason for wanting to talk with him, and whether he knew Mr. and Mrs. Gross (the victims). Elstad stated that he knew the Grosses, and that he’d heard they’d been burglarized.
Burke replied that he thought Elstad was involved in the burglary, and the respondent admitted, Yes, I was there. He was then taken to the Sheriff’s office and was subsequently advised of his Miranda rights. Elstad stated that he understood his rights and that he would give a statement, which he did in detail. His confession was read back to him and read by him. Elstad initialed and signed the statement and also added a sentence (After leaving the house Robby and I went back to [the] van and Robby handed me a small bag of grass) to it.
Elstad maintained that at no time did the officers make threats or promises to him. He was charged with first degree burglary and opted against a jury trial. Defense immediately moved to suppress both Elstad’s initial verbal statement and the signed confession, contending that the initial statement he made at his house to Officer Burke let the cat out of the bag, causing his ensuing written confession to be tainted as fruit of the poisonous tree. The judge excluded the initial statement due to Elstad’s not having been informed of his Miranda rights prior to that statement. Elstad’s written confession was not excluded, as the judge did not agree that it was in any way tainted.
Elstad was found guilty of first-degree burglary. APPELLATE: Oregon State Court of Appeals: Conviction reversed. The State contended that although the initial statement made by the respondent (prior to having been advised of his rights) should be inadmissible, his written confession should be allowed. The Court of Appeals, however, saw both statements as inadmissible, as there was little time between the two statements, and that was not enough time to insulate the latter statement from the effect of what went before the cat was sufficiently out of the bag to exert a coercive impact on [respondent’s] later admissions. The Oregon Supreme Court declined the State’s petition for review.
The State then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, and certiorari was granted. ISSUE: The question in this case was whether the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires that a confession made by a defendant, after having been advised of his Miranda rights and having waived those rights, should be excluded because of another admission made to officers by that defendant before he had been advised of his rights. ARGUMENT: Reasoning: The Court cited the following cases to illustrate and establish precedence for its reasoning: Wong Sun v. United States: Where it was established that evidence and witnesses discovered as the result of search in violation of the Fourth Amendment is considered fruit of the poisonous tree, and must be excluded. The fruit doctrine also applies to confessions. However, Wong Sun also illustrates that precise and proper advisement of Miranda rights serves to cure the condition that rendered the unwarned statement inadmissible: The warning conveys the relevant information and thereafter the suspect’s choice whether to exercise his privilege to remain silent should ordinarily be viewed as an act of free will.
(371 U.S. at 486) Brown v Illinois: Illustrates that a procedural Miranda violation differs from Fourth Amendment violation, as the purpose of the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule is to curb unreasonable search. Harris v New York: The Harris Court rejected the premise that a defendant’s inadmissible confession entitles that defendant to deny every fact disclosed or discovered as ‘fruit’ of his confession, free from confrontation with his prior statements. (401 U.S. 222) Failure to advise of Miranda rights creates a legal presumption of compulsion (of testimony,) but this compulsion does not prohibit the use of such statements in cross-examination. Michigan v Tucker: In Tucker, police used information garnered from a statement, made without Miranda warning, to uncover a witness.
The Tucker Court established that this action was not in violation of the Wong Sun fruits doctrine. Miranda v Arizona: The Miranda Court set precedence that Miranda warnings will only be required after the accused has been taken into custody, or freedom has been restricted. United States v Bayer: Illustrates that once the accused lets the cat out of the bag, he can’t get the cat back in the bag – he will be at a disadvantage. But this Court has never gone so far as to hold that making a confession under circumstances which preclude its use, perpetually disables the confessor from making a usable one after those conditions have been removed. (331 U.S., at 540-541) Lyons v Oklahoma: Establishes that even when a confession is forced, the coercive effect of the confession can be dissipated with time.
Application: The Court asserted that although Elstad’s admission made prior to Miranda advisement must be excluded, as per Miranda v Arizona, The admissibility of any subsequent statement should turn in these circumstances solely on whether it was knowingly and voluntarily made. The Court affirmed that There is no question that respondent knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to remain silent before he described his participation in the burglary. It is not reasonable to interpret Miranda as requiring that mere neglect to Mirandize a suspect, without any concurrent coercion, thereby corrupts any further voluntary, informed statement. Furthermore, there was no evidence of any sort of coercion on the part of the officers. Mr.
Elstad contended that because he was unaware of the fact that his initial statement could not be used against him, he did not give a fully informed surrender of his rights. Having let the cat out of the bag, Elstad believed his second statement was compulsory. To this premise the Court responded, Certainly, in respondent’s case, the causal connection between any psychological disadvantage created by his admission and his ultimate decision to cooperate is speculative and attenuated at best. We must conclude that, absent deliberately coercive or improper tactics in obtaining the initial statement, the mere fact that a suspect has made an unwarned admission does not warrant a presumption of compulsion. Conclusion: We hold today that a suspect who has once responded to unwarned yet uncoercive questioning is not thereby disabled from waiving his rights and confessing after he has been given the requisite Miranda warnings. The judgement of the Court of Appeals of Oregon is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
ANALYSES CRIME CONTROL: The Oregon Court of Appeals finding, that once Elstad let the cat out of the bag his subsequent confession was tainted as the fruit of the poisonous tree, was a detriment to police efficiency. Police investigations rely upon a variety of informal procedures including voluntary statements of suspects. By finding that a willing, non-coerced admission made prior to Miranda warning could render a later, procedurally-correct, voluntary and signed confession inadmissible, the Appeals Court imposed a barrier to normal police tactics. Had that ruling been upheld, police officer’s use of voluntary statements would have been hindered, as police would have hesitated to solicit or receive any suspect’s voluntary statements at risk of tainting later confessions. By inhibiting police procedure the efficiency of police would be impeded.
DUE PROCESS This Supreme Court decision strikes a critical blow to due process and the rights of the accused. There was no argument as to the fact that Officers Burke and McAllister were remiss in their failure to advise the accused of his rights. But by simply disallowing the initial unadvised statement and not the ensuing confession, the Court is ignoring the coercive circumstances under which that formal statement was made. Elstad maintained that he believed his first admission could be used against him, and it was due to that belief that he gave his full confession. Unaware of his own precarious legal circumstances, having neither been shown the arrest warrant or advised of his rights, Elstad made an admission which he might not have made had he been advised of his rights.
Under the coercive belief that his first statement would be used against him, Elstad made a full confession, a confession that was most certainly the fruit of the poisoned tree. By denying the coercive impact of the first statement, the Supreme Court has denied much of the Wong Sun fruit doctrine. In Wong Sun v. United States (371 U.S. 471,) the Supreme Court holds that a suspect’s voluntary statement, made in a situation of extreme tension, cannot be considered voluntary; Under such circumstances it is unreasonable to infer that [suspect’s] response was sufficiently an act of free will to purge the primary taint of unlawful invasion.
Thus, under circumstances of duress, according to Supreme Court precedent, a statement can be considered involuntary even when the coercion is not immediately obvious. Under the conviction that one has already ‘let the cat out of the bag, therefore, a subsequent confession should be found involuntary if the Court is to protect the rights of the accused. CLASS JUSTICE The failure of the Supreme Court to disallow the tainted confession of Elstad was entirely predictable, as the Supreme Court is a component of our class-biased criminal justice system. In this case, the accused imprudently made an unwarned admission -let the cat out of the bag, in his mind – that, due to his lack of understanding of criminal process, compelled him to make another, legally admissible statement. Elstad is representative of the average suspect – typically a member of the lower class–in that he was not well acquainted with due process.
Had Elstad an education in criminal procedure, or a lawyer on retainer, this case would have quite likely progressed in an entirely different manner, if at all, as either condition would have prevented both his initial admission and his ignorant decision that the cat was already out of the bag. But as the criminal justice system is biased against those who are without education or means to high-priced council, it stands to reason that the Supreme Court decided to discount the accused’s confusion as to the admissibility of his initial statement, thus finding against the uneducated, unadvised lower class. Legal Issues.