/ January 14, 2009

Question Presented: Must a defendant affirmatively accept appointed counsel to be protected by the Sixth Amendment during a custodial interrogation?

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Montejo v. Louisiana , the case about whether a defendant need affirmatively accept the appointment of counsel to qualify for Sixth Amendment protections.  The defendant, Jesse Jay Montejo, was found guilty of murder in 2002 after making statements and writing a letter to the victim’s wife apologizing for the murder.

Montejo requested counsel, revoked his request for counsel, then gave a statement and wrote an apology to the victim’s wife.  Following his arrest, Montejo attended a hearing to determine bail and appoint counsel – the record does not include Montejo’s response to the appointment of counsel.  Montejo believed he’d secured counsel, but the police were unaware that he was represented.  The next day, Montejo helped detectives look for the murder weapon, but his attorney was not present for the search or the subsequent interrogation.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the fruits of the interrogations were admissible.  Because Montejo merely accepted his right to counsel (rather than requesting it), his right to counsel is not governed by the Sixth Amendment, rather it is governed by Miranda, and he was free to waive the right.  Therefore, evidence gathered in the interrogation were admissible. This ruling is consistent with Louisiana and Fifth Circuit precedent.

Montejo contends that his statements and letter were improperly admitted because requiring a suspect to “affirmatively accept” the appointment of counsel at a “critical stage” violates the Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel.  Other states (Wisconsin, Arkansas, Texas) take this view.

The Court heard oral arguments yesterday.  We will update you when a ruling becomes available.

View the docket here .

Read the petitioner’s (defendant) brief here .

Read the respondent’s (state) brief here .

View a transcript of the oral argument here .

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