Nix v. Williams

LOCATION: Police Car

DOCKET NO.: 82-1651
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 467 US 431 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1984

Brent R. Appel - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly - Rgued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal
Robert Bartels - By appointment of the Court, argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Williams was arrested for the murder of a ten-year-old girl who's body he disposed of along a gravel road. State law enforcement officials engaged in a massive search for the child's body. During the search, after responding to an officer's appeal for assistance, Williams made statements to the police (without an attorney present) which helped lead the searchers to the child's body. The defendant's Miranda rights were only read to him after his arrest.


Should evidence resulting in an arrest be excluded from trial because it was improperly obtained?

Media for Nix v. Williams

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1984 in Nix v. Williams

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Nix against Williams.

Mr. Appel, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Brent R. Appel:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This is the second time this case has been here, and so the Court is fully familiar with the underlying facts.

But this time it comes here in a very different analytical posture.

In the first case, as you recall, highly probative testimony about the fact that the witness in the back seat of a car made incriminating statements that ultimately led police to the body of a murder victim was suppressed on the ground that the Respondent's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated.

After this Court set aside the first conviction, Respondent was retried and this time medical testimony about the fact of the body's discovery, the fact that the body was dead, and the fact that the body showed evidence of sexual abuse, and the fact that the body appeared to have been suffocated was introduced in the record on an inevitable discovery theory.

And the State believes that in this particular case if the Court keeps focus on the fact that this is an independent source case with a twist, the twist of inevitable discovery, it's readily disposed of in favor of the Petitioner.

It is not an attenuation case.

It is not a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

And it is emphatically not an attempt to relitigate Williams I.

Let's review the facts on Williams II.

Inevitable discovery is the exception used to admit the evidence.

200 volunteers were sweeping across an area in central Iowa, looking in ditches along Interstate 80 for the body of the murder victim.

It's in the record under Detective Ruxlow's testimony exactly what the contours of this search were.

But the volunteers were expressly directed to look in hidden parts of ditches for the body.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is it true, as the Respondent states, that the scope of the search was to stop at the county line?

Brent R. Appel:

The testimony in the record is flatly to the contrary.

Detective Ruxlow, who was in charge of the search, stated that the search was going to continue into Polk County.

And that makes logical sense.

If the body had not been discovered and the search had already continued for a period of 60 miles, 7 miles north and 7 miles south of the interstate, they surely would have continued the search on into the YMCA, which is where the abduction ultimately occurred.

The trial court--

Byron R. White:

The Court of Appeals didn't disagree with that, did it?

Brent R. Appel:

--The Court of Appeals did not--

Byron R. White:

He found on another theory.

Brent R. Appel:

--The Court of Appeals introduced an absence of bad faith theory into the case and reversed on that ground.


Brent R. Appel:

And Mr. Justice White, I submit--

Byron R. White:

And it assumed that even if it would have been found, it was inadmissible because of the faith, bad faith.

Brent R. Appel:

--The Court of Appeals said that because the State failed to--