Florida v. Powell

RESPONDENT: Kevin Dewayne Powell
LOCATION: Supreme Court of Florida

DOCKET NO.: 08-1175
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 559 US 50 (2010)
GRANTED: Jun 22, 2009
ARGUED: Dec 07, 2009
DECIDED: Feb 23, 2010

Deborah K. Brueckheimer - for the respondent
David O'Neil - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Joseph W. Jacquot - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Kevin D. Powell was convicted in a Florida state court of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Mr. Powell appealed arguing that his Miranda warning was invalid because the written form used by the Tampa police at his arrest did not explicitly indicate that he had a right to an attorney at his questioning. The court of appeals agreed and reversed the conviction. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed, holding that informing a defendant that he has the right to "talk with an attorney" is not sufficient to inform him of his right to have counsel present.


1) Does the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over this case even though the Florida Supreme Court used, at least in part, its own Constitution in reaching its decision?

2) Does the failure to provide explicit advice of right to presence of counsel during questioning invalidate Miranda warnings that advise both a) right to talk to a lawyer "before questioning" and b) the right to consult a lawyer "at any time during the questioning?"

Media for Florida v. Powell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 2009 in Florida v. Powell

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 23, 2010 in Florida v. Powell

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Ginsburg has our opinion this morning in case 08-1175, Florida versus Powell.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

In Miranda against Arizona, this Court held that before police question a suspect in custody they must clearly inform him of his rights.

This now familiar Miranda warnings include advice of the right to have a lawyer present during interrogation.

In this case, Tampa police arrested Kevin Powell and read him the standard Miranda form.

Among other warnings, the police told Powell he had the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of their questions and the rights to use any of his rights at any time during the interview.

The Florida Supreme Court held this advice inadequate.

The right to counsel warning was misleading the court believed because it suggested Powell could talk to an attorney only before the police started to question him and did not convey that the lawyer could be present throughout the interrogation.

We reverse.

Our opinion first confirms that we have jurisdiction to hear this case.

Powell argued that we lack jurisdiction because the Florida Supreme Court relied on the state's constitution in addition to Miranda, hence the decision rested on inadequate and independent state ground.

This Court's decision in Michigan v. Long councils otherwise.

When a state court decision appears to rest primarily on federal law and the independence of any state law ground is not clear from the face of the opinion, Michigan v. Long requires the court to presume that federal law controls the outcome.

Here the Florida high court's opinion consistently trained on what Miranda demands rather than on what Florida law independently requires.

Thus no alternative state grounds impedes our jurisdiction.

On the merits we hold that the advice how received satisfies Miranda.

By telling Powell he could talk to an attorney before answering any of their questions, the Tampa police communicated that he could consult with a lawyer before responding to any particular question and the statement that Powell could invoke this right at any time during the interview confirms that he could exercise his right to counsel while the interrogation was underway.

In combination of these two warnings, reasonably conveyed Powell's right to have an attorney present at all times.

To reduce the risk that a court would later find Miranda advice inadequate, it is in law enforcement only interest to state warnings with maximum clarity.

The FBI Standard Miranda Warnings are exemplary on the right to counsel.

The FBI inform suspects, you have a right to talk to a lawyer or advice before we ask you any questions, you have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning.

Different words were used in the advice Powell received, but they communicated the same essential message.

Justice Stevens has filed the dissenting opinion in which Justice Breyer joins in part.