Montejo v. Louisiana

PETITIONER:Jesse Jay Montejo
RESPONDENT:State of Louisiana
LOCATION: Private Residence in St. Tammany Parish

DOCKET NO.: 07-1529
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Louisiana Supreme Court

CITATION: 556 US 778 (2009)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 2009
DECIDED: May 26, 2009

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. – argued the cause for the petitioner
Kathryn W. Landry – argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

In March 2005, Jesse Montejo was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Lewis Ferrari. At his trial, the prosecution submitted as evidence a letter of apology he wrote to the victim’s wife. Montejo wrote the letter at the suggestion of a detective who accompanied him in a search for the murder weapon. Before the search, Mr. Montejo was read his Miranda rights and wrote an explanation for his participation in the search. However, no one in the search party knew, including Mr. Montejo, that he had been appointed an attorney the same morning. Mr. Montejo contended under these circumstances that the Sixth Amendment barred the introduction of this evidence since his attorney was not present when he wrote and submitted the letter of apology.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana held that the letter of apology Mr. Montejo wrote was valid evidence. It found that Mr. Montejo waived his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. It explained that when counsel was appointed Mr. Montejo remained mute and did not acknowledge it. The court reasoned that something beyond “mute acquiescence” is required to trigger the protections of the Sixth Amendment.


After the appointment of an attorney, does a defendant need to take additional steps to accept the appointment in order to secure the protections afforded by the Sixth Amendment?

Media for Montejo v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 13, 2009 in Montejo v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 26, 2009 in Montejo v. Louisiana

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has our opinion this morning in case 07-1529, Montejo versus Louisiana.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

Jesse Montejo under arrest for the murder of Lewis Ferrari waived his Miranda rights and was interrogated by the police.

He told several conflicting stories about his involvement in the crime ultimately admitting that he had shot Ferrari in the course of botched burglary.

Several days later, Montejo was brought before a Louisiana Court for a preliminary hearing at which the judge ordered on his own initiative and as required by state law that counsel be appointed to represent the defendant.

Later that same day, police investigators approached Montejo at the prison where he was being held and requested that he accompany them on a search for the murder weapon.

Montejo again waived his Miranda rights and agreed to go along.

During the ride, he wrote an inculpatory letter of apology to the victim’s widow.

This case concerns the admissibility at trial of that letter of apology.

Louisiana trial court allowed prosecutors to introduce the letter.

Montejo was convicted by the jury and sentenced to death.

The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed. We granted certiorari.

In the case called Michigan versus Jackson, this Court held that “if police-initiated interrogation after a defendant’s assertion at an arraignment or similar proceeding of his right to counsel, any waiver of the defendant’s right to counsel for that police-initiated interrogation is invalid.”

Montejo contends that this decision forbids police to approach any represented defendant.

The Louisiana Supreme Court however interpreted the precedent to mean that a defendant must have requested counsel or otherwise have invoked his Sixth Amendment rights in order to trigger the Jackson Rule.

In Louisiana, as in almost half of the 50 states, counsel is automatically appointed for indigent defendants and so Montejo did not make a specific request for a lawyer.

We agree with Montejo that the Louisiana Supreme Court’s view of the Jackson Rule would produce an unworkable standard.

Preliminary hearings are often not transcribed or recorded, they tend to be rushed, and defendants do not always attend.

It would be very difficult for courts to apply a request or invocation standard on a case by case basis attempting to divine after the fact whether a particular defendant expressed verbally or otherwise a desire for representation.

Of course courts could decline to apply Jackson altogether to defendants in those states that appoint counsel without request, but that would surely lead to arbitrary results.1

On the other hand, Montejo’s reading of the case is untethered from the original rational of Jackson.

Our case has make perfectly clear that the Sixth Amendment right not to interrogated without counsel can be waived, so long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary.

We have further held that a defendant’s waiver of his Miranda Rights including the Fifth Amendment right to counsel during interrogation also operates to waive his overlapping Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Jackson adopted a prophylactic exception to this principle designed to prevent the police from badgering defendants into waiving their previously asserted right to counsel.

Jackson held that once a defendant has invoked his general right to counsel, a later waiver of counsel’s assistance during interrogation will be presumed to have been unlawfully coerced unless the defendant initiated the contact.

Contrary to the dissent’s view, that is the only coherent rationale for Jackson given our holdings that waivers our ordinarily permissible even by uncounseled and unrepresented defendants.

Of course this antibadgering theory has no application to defendants like Montejo who have not yet expressed the desire for counsel but have been assigned counsel automatically by state law.

Given that the Louisiana Supreme Court’s approach to Jackson is impractical and Montejo’s approach inconsistent with Jackson’s rationale, we requested briefing on whether to overrule the case.

We now do so.

Jackson is not a venerable precedent, it was decided in 1986.

Antonin Scalia:

It was poorly reasoned.

Has created no significant reliance interest and as we have described is ultimately unworkable.

The benefits of the Jackson prophylactic rule are minimal.

Because of the protections created by this Court in Miranda and related cases, there was little if any chance that a defendant will be badgered into waiving his right to have counsel present during interrogation.

Our cases hold that if a defendant requests counsel when he is first approached for interrogation and given his Miranda warnings, not only is the immediate interrogation without counsel forbidden but any later consent to interrogation without counsel will be deemed coerced if the police can initiated the contact.

This is enough prophylaxis to protect defendant’s Fifth Amendment right from badgering an enough we think to protect his overlapping Sixth Amendment right as well.

Jackson however with respect to all defendants who have made a general request for counsel at arraignment prevents investigators from even seeking an uncounseled interview for the first time.

The considerable adverse effect of this rule upon society’s ability to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice far outweighs its capacity to prevent a genuinely coerced agreement to speak without counsel present.

We therefore overrule Michigan versus Jackson.

Although we agree with the Louisiana Supreme Court’s disposition of Montejo’s Jackson claim, we remand the case so that Montejo can pursue any distinct arguments he may have about the validity of his Miranda waiver which takes on added important in light our decision today.

The judgment of the Louisiana Supreme Court is vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Justice Alito has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Kennedy has joined.

Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion.

John Paul Stevens:

I have also filed a dissenting opinion that Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg have joined. Justice Breyer has joined all of that opinion except one footnote and he has also found a short dissenting statement.

The Sixth Amendment provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

In a long line of cases, the Court has held that such assistance must be available at every critical stage of the prosecution including those that occur outside the courtroom.

Post-indictment, police-initiated interrogation whether or not it amounts to badgering is one such critical stage.

Until today, it was perfectly clear that if a defendant was represented by a lawyer, the police could not question him without giving notice to his lawyer and unless the lawyer was present and unless the defendant initiated the encounter.

That result was clear not only from our decision in Michigan against Jackson but also from the reasoning of earlier cases such as United States against Wade.

As I explained at length in my dissenting opinion, the Court’s decision to overrule Jackson is both unwise and unjustified.

It will however have only limited practical consequences because ethics rules governing the conduct of prosecutors in every state and in the Federal Government already prohibit them from directing their agents to interrogate represented defendants outside the presence of counsel.

The Court’s decision to overrule Jackson will therefore not affect the way most law enforcement agencies which mostly of course are thoroughly ethical, govern their — in directions with represented defendants.

It is only the rare unethical prosecutor whose conduct is endorsed by the Court today.

But that fact highlights the lack of justification for departing from the rule of stare decisis and diminishing the value of an important constitutional right.

The decision to overrule Jackson is unsound and unwise.

It can only have an adverse impact on the law enforcement profession in the rule of law itself.