Davis v. United States

PETITIONER: Robert L. Davis
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Charleston Naval Base

DOCKET NO.: 92-1949
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

CITATION: 512 US 452 (1994)
ARGUED: Mar 29, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1994
GRANTED: Nov 01, 1993

David S. Jonas - on behalf of the Petitioner
Richard H. Seamon - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

On the Charleston Naval Base, Keith Shackleton lost a game of pool and a $30 wager to Robert L. Davis. Shackelton refused to pay, and was later found behind the pool club beaten to death with a pool cue. The Naval Investigative Service (NIS) questioned Davis after finding a bloodstain of one of the pool cues Davis owned. Before questioning, Davis waived his rights to remain silent and to counsel both orally and in writing. About an hour and a half into questioning, Davis said, “Maybe I should talk to a lawyer.” The interviewing agents attempted to clarify the statement and reminded Davis he could remain silent and/or speak to counsel, but Davis said, “No, I don’t want a lawyer.” Questioning continued for another hour before Davis said, “I think I want a lawyer before I say anything else.” At this point questioning ceased.

At trial, Davis was convicted on one count of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to confinement for life and dishonorable discharge. Davis appealed, arguing that the NIS investigators violated his right to counsel, as laid out in Evans v. Arizona, when they continued questioning after Davis indicated he “maybe” should talk to a lawyer. The U.S. Court of Military Appeals affirmed the conviction, finding that Davis’ statements were ambiguous and the NIS appropriately clarified Davis’ wishes before continuing questioning.


When a suspect makes an ambiguous request for counsel during a custodial interrogation, must the interrogator cease questioning until the suspect is provided with counsel?

Media for Davis v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 1994 in Davis v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

In the second of the two opinions I have to announce is 92-1949, Davis against the United States.

And here, petitioner, Davis, is a member of the United States Navy.

A serviceman was murdered on the Charleston Navy Base and the investigation by the NIS, the Naval Investigative Service, gradually focused on petitioner.

After being advised of his rights to remain silent and to counsel, he agreed to talk with NIS agents.

About an-hour-and-a-half into the interview, he said "Maybe I should talk to a lawyer."

The agents asked him whether he was asking for a lawyer or just making a comment about a lawyer, and he said "no, I am not asking for a lawyer", and, "no, I do not want a lawyer."

The agents then continued questioning him.

The Trial Court declined to suppress the incriminating statements he made during the interview finding that he had not requested counsel and that the agents properly determine that he was not indicating a desire to have an attorney present.

He was convicted of murder and the Military Appellate Court upheld his conviction.

We granted certiorari in the case to resolve a conflict among the State and Federal Courts with respect to how law enforcement officers should respond to the suspect's ambiguous or equivocal request for counsel.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk and authored by Justice O'Connor, we affirm the judgment below.

In our Miranda decision back in 1966, we held that a suspect is entitled to the assistance of counsel during custodial interrogation even though the Constitution does not provide for such assistance.

In our 1981 Edwards decision, we held that if the suspect invokes the right to counsel anytime the policeman immediately seize questioning until an attorney is present.

But we are unwilling to create a third layer of prophylaxis to prevent police questioning when the suspect might want a lawyer.

Unless the suspect actually requests an attorney by making a statement that a reasonable officer in the light of the circumstances would understand to be an invocation of the right to counsel questioning may continue.

The courts below found that petitioner's remark to the NIS agent "maybe I should talk to a lawyer" was not a request for counsel and we so no reason to disturb that conclusion.

The NIS agents, therefore, were not required to stop questioning petitioner though it was entirely proper for them if they wished to clarify whether he wanted a lawyer.

Accordingly, there is no ground for suppression of petitioner's statements and the judgments of the lower courts are affirmed.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Souter has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justices Blackmun, Stevens, Ginsburg join.