Colorado v. Spring

RESPONDENT: John Leroy Spring
LOCATION: Craig, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 85-1517
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Colorado Supreme Court

CITATION: 479 US 564 (1987)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1986
DECIDED: Jan 27, 1987
GRANTED: May 05, 1986

Lawrence S. Robbins - as amicus curiae supporting petitioner
Maureen Phelan - on behalf of the Petitioner
Seth Jeremy Benezra - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

In February 1979, John Leroy Spring and a companion shot and killed Donald Walker during a hunting trip in Colorado. Shortly after, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) received information from an informant that Spring was involved in the transportation of stolen firearms across state lines. The informant also told the agents the Spring had been talking about killing Walker. The agents set up an undercover operation and arrested Spring on March 30. Spring was advised of his Miranda rights at the scene of the arrest and again at the police station. He then signed a document stating that he understood and waived his rights and was willing to make a statement. After asking Spring about the firearms transactions, the agents asked Spring if he had ever shot anyone, and if he had shot Walker in Colorado. Spring admitted to shooting someone but denied shooting Walker, and the interview ended. On May 26, Colorado police officers visited Spring in jail intending to question him about the Walker murder. They read Spring his Miranda rights, and he signed a document stating that he waived them. During the course of the interview, Spring confessed to the murder.

Spring was charged with first-degree murder in Colorado state court. He moved to suppress both the March 30 and May 26 statements by arguing that he invalidly waived his Miranda rights. The trial court held that the police’s failure to inform Spring of the topics that would be covered in questioning did not affect the the waiver, but the content of the March 30 interview was not relevant. The trial court suppressed the March 30 statement and admitted the May 26 statement into evidence. Spring was convicted. On appeal, Spring renewed his argument about the waiver of his Miranda rights for the March 30 statement and argued that the May 26 statement was the “illegal fruit” of the March 30 statement. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed and held that the March 30 statement was inadmissible because the ATF agents had a duty to inform Spring that he was a suspect in the Walker murder before questioning him about it. The Court of Appeals also held that the state failed to meet its burden to prove that the May 26 statement was not the product of the earlier illegal statement. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed.


Is the suspect’s awareness of the crimes about which he may be questioned relevant to his informed decision to waive his Fifth Amendment rights?

Media for Colorado v. Spring

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1986 in Colorado v. Spring

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in No. 85-1517, Colorado against Spring.

Ms. Phelan, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Maureen Phelan:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is here today on a petition... or for a writ, rather, of certiorari to the Colorado Supreme Court, which did suppress a statement made by the defendant.

I will very briefly summarize the facts, and then I'll explain why the court below misconstrued this Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona.

And I would like to point out that in my opening brief in this Court I really did not go into all of the facts that supported the trial court's conclusion that this waiver was knowing and voluntary.

So this is really my opportunity to get those facts out.

Again, the case involves the validity of this Miranda waiver.

The facts are that the defendant here agreed to sell some stolen guns to Federal agents.

They were Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents working undercover.

He was arrested during the sale.

He was put into a police car, and he was given his Miranda warnings at this time.

In addition, he was also given an additional warning that he had the right to stop questioning at any time; and he also had the right to stop questioning for the purpose of obtaining counsel at any time.

He was then driven down to the local ATF offices... this was in Kansas City... and he was again given the warnings, and again, given the additional warnings.

At that time, he signed a written waiver, and this written waiver is included in the record.

It's very specific.

It states that he did not want an attorney at this time; that he was willing to answer questions; that he understood what he was doing; and that no promises, threats, pressure or force had been placed upon him.

Some of the additional factors showing that this waiver was voluntary is the fact that this defendant was 23 years old, and at the time of this transaction, had quite a lot of prior involvement with the criminal justice system.

He had murdered his aunt when he was 10 years old, and shot another aunt at the same time.

And then when he was 18 and first released from his juvenile detention, he was convicted in Iowa of a robbery.

About two weeks later, he was convicted also in Iowa of a forgery case.

And a couple of years later, at the age of 20, convicted again in Iowa of robbery without aggravation.

There's nothing in the record to show that this defendant was anything less than average intelligence.

There's no indication of any sort of incompetence, no claim of any--

John Paul Stevens:

I wonder about that last statement.

Maureen Phelan:

--I'm sorry, Your Honor?

John Paul Stevens:

Nothing in the record to show that he's less than average intelligence?

Maureen Phelan:

Yes, Your Honor.

John Paul Stevens:

Well... what was it he said, I shot some guy once?

Was that what he said?