Brewer v. Williams Case Brief

Facts of the case

Robert Williams escaped from a mental hospital and lived at the Des Moines YMCA. Soon thereafter, a 10-year-old girl disappeared from the YMCA while at her brother’s wrestling match. A boy in the parking lot saw Williams carrying a large bundle to his car with two “skinny and white” legs in it. The next day, police found Williams’ abandoned car about 160 miles east of Des Moines. Williams soon turned himself in to police in Davenport, Iowa. Williams said he would tell police the whole story once he saw his lawyer in Des Moines. Williams spoke with a local attorney and reiterated his intention to confess when he saw his attorney in Des Moines. Davenport police promised not to question Williams during the drive to Des Moines. During the drive, however, the detective, knowing that Williams was deeply religious, told Williams that the girl’s family wanted to give her a “Christian burial” and suggested that they stop to locate the body. As a result of the officer’s pointed statements, Williams made incriminating statements and ultimately led police to the girl’s body. He was indicted for first-degree murder.At trial, Williams moved to suppress all evidence relating to the car ride conversation, arguing that the questioning violated Williams’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The judge denied the motion, and a jury found Williams guilty. The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. Williams petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. The court granted the writ, finding that speaking to Williams during the drive violated his right to counsel, and the evidence in question was wrongly admitted at trial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Why is the case important?

The defendant, Robert Williams (the “defendant”), after being arraigned on charges of abducting a 10-year old girl, was traveling with an officer between Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa. Although the defendant’s lawyers instructed that no questioning should take place outside their presence, the defendant was convinced by the officer to give directions to the body of the girl.


Whether the officer’s conversation with the defendant constitutes an interrogation that violates the defendant’s right to counsel, and therefore requires the suppression of the evidence?


The evidence should be suppressed because the defendant was denied counsel during an interrogation environment. Once judicial proceedings begin, such as the arraignment, assistance of counsel is required. In this case, the defendant not only did not waive his right to counsel, he affirmatively maintained it through several exchanges between the officers.


On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed and held that respondent was entitled to a new trial because he was deprived of the Sixth Amendme nt right to assistance of counsel, as judicial proceedings had been initiated against him before the start of the car ride, and the officer deliberately set out to elicit information from him when he was entitled to the assistance of counsel. The Court concluded that respondent did not waive his right to counsel because he consistently relied upon the advice of counsel in dealing with the authorities.

  • Advocates: Richard N. Winders for petitioner Richard C. Turner for petitioner Robert D. Bartels for respondent
  • Petitioner: Lou V. Brewer, Warden of the Iowa State Penitentiary
  • Respondent: Robert Anthony Williams aka Anthony Erthel Williams
  • DECIDED BY:Burger Court
  • Location: YMCA of Greater Des Moines
Citation: 430 US 387 (1977)
Argued: Oct 4, 1976
Decided: Mar 23, 1977
Granted: Dec 15, 1975
Brewer v. Williams Case Brief