Fellers v. United States

PETITIONER: John J. Fellers
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Pennsylvania General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 02-6320
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 540 US 519 (2004)
GRANTED: Mar 10, 2003
ARGUED: Dec 10, 2003
DECIDED: Jan 26, 2004

ADVOCATES:
Alfred P. Carlton - for the American Bar Association as amicus curiae
Charles L. Hobson - for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation as amicus curiae urging affirmance
Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben - argued the cause for the United States
Kent S. Scheidegger - for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation as amicus curiae urging affirmance
Michael R. Dreeben - argued the cause for Respondent
Seth P. Waxman - argued the cause for Petitioner
Thomas C. Goldstein - for the American Bar Association as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

After a grand jury indicted Fellers, police arrested him at home. Fellers made incriminating statements during the arrest. Police officially interrogated Fellers at county jail and told him of his Miranda rights. Fellers signed a waiver of these rights and restated incriminating statements he had made at home. Fellers later argued that, when he was arrested in his home without a lawyer, police "deliberately elicited" incriminating statements. Pointing to his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, Fellers argued it would be unconstitutional to admit at trial his incriminating statements made in jail, because these were the "fruits" of comments made at home without a lawyer.

Fellers was convicted in federal district court. A federal appellate court affirmed the conviction and ruled that officers did not violate Fellers' Sixth Amendment right to counsel either at home or in the jailhouse.

Question

(1) Was the appellate court correct to rule that officers did not violate Fellers' Sixth Amendment right to counsel because officers did not interrogate him? (2) Should Fellers' statements in the jailhouse - given after police Mirandized him - be suppressed because they were fruits of an unconstitutional interview in his home?

Media for Fellers v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 2003 in Fellers v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 26, 2004 in Fellers v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 02-6320, Fellers against United States which comes to us on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Two police officers visited the petitioner, a man named John J. Fellers, at his home in Nebraska.

The officers told him that they have come to discuss his involvement in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine that involves several other individual whom they named.

They said that Fellers had been indicted and that they have a warrant for his arrest.

During a brief discussion, Fellers admitted to having used methamphetamine during his association with the named individuals.

The officers transported him to the County jail where they informed him of his rights under the Miranda and Patterson cases.

After he waived those rights, Fellers reiterated his earlier enculpatory statement.

At trial, the District Court suppressed the unwarrant statements that Fellers made at his home but not his jail house statements.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction holding that the jail house statements were admissible under the rule of Oregon against Elstad, a case of ours from about 20 years ago, and that the officers did not violate petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel because they did not interrogate him at his home.

In an opinion authored by Justice O’Connor, we now reverse.

The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is triggered when judicial proceedings have been initiated against an individual such as an indictment.

We have held that an accused is denied that right when officers deliberately elicit incriminating statements from him in the absence of counsel.

There is no doubt that the officers here did deliberately elicit Fellers’ original incriminating statement when they told him that they had come to discuss his involvement in methamphetamine checking.

The Court of Appeals was therefore wrong in holding that the absence of an interrogation foreclosed Fellers’ Sixth Amendment claim.

Because of that determination, the Court of Appeals did not reach the question whether Fellers’ jail house statement should be suppressed as the fruits of questioning conducted in violation of the Sixth Amendment.

We have had no occasion to decide whether the rationale of Oregon against Elstad applies in that context.

The case is remanded to the Court of Appeals to address that issue in the first instance.

The opinion is unanimous.