Oregon v. Elstad

LOCATION: Elstad's Residence

DOCKET NO.: 83-773
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 470 US 298 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 03, 1984
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1985

David B. Frohnmayer - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Gary D. Babcock - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Michael James Elstad was suspected of committing a burglary and was picked up by police officers in his home. Before officers had given the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, Elstad made an incriminating statement. Once at the Sheriff's headquarters, Elstad was advised of his rights. Elstad then voluntarily executed a written confession.


Was Elstad's written confession made invalid by the failure of the officers to administer Miranda warnings at his home?

Media for Oregon v. Elstad

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 1984 in Oregon v. Elstad

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Oregon v. Elstad.

Mr. Attorney General, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

David B. Frohnmayer:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case requires close analysis of an extraordinary conclusion of a lower court.

The Oregon Court of Appeals used an extreme extension of the Miranda Doctrine to suppress a fully-advised, utterly voluntary, and clearly cuspirating confession of guilt.

That court applied a per se exclusionary rule because of an earlier marginal violation of the outer perimeters of the Miranda Doctrine.

This circumstance gives rise to a question which this Court has never faced squarely before.

The defendant was convicted of a burglary following a full confession of his complicity.

The signed confession was scrupulously preceded by Miranda advice and by oral and written waivers of all rights, including the right to remain silent.

Defendant declared and exercised his desire to give a full accounting of his involvement in the burglary, and the validity of his waiver was never challenged.

Yet, at trial, the defendant sought unsuccessfully to suppress this fully voluntary confession on the basis of an earlier limited admission which had not been preceded by Miranda advice which suggested his presence at the crime scene.

The trial court expressly found that the full confession was voluntary and that it was not tainted by his earlier limited statement.

This case is before this Court only because the Court of Appeals in Oregon accepted defendant's theory that a per se rule of exclusion should govern the second statement and render it invalid because the

"cat was out of the bag. "

To suppress the confession in this case is not only without basis in the Fifth Amendment, it is fundamentally itself disrespectful of the importance and desired effect of the required Miranda warnings fashioned by this Court nearly two decades ago.

There is, in fact, no evidence on this record of a connection between the two statements.

The Court of Appeals used no legal analysis to establish it, and instead applied a metaphor as a substitute for reasoning.

The "cat out of the bag" metaphor is born of a context clearly different than that utilized in this case because it was born from the involuntary or coerced confession cases.

When the violation at stake is a Miranda violation, the metaphor is psychologically simplistic, does not do justice to the facts or analysis of this case, it will not work a proper result, it disables the police from correcting mistakes, it imposes excessively high cost without deterring police misconduct or improper practices, and it undervalues the importance of Miranda warnings as well as the central core of informed consent which we believe lies at the heart of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The metaphors of the court are inadequate to provide guidance because under a proper analysis, and even pursuing the metaphor further, there is no evidence that "cat" was ever "in the bag at all".

There's no evidence that the defendant really meant to or wanted to keep quiet.

There is no evidence of compulsion which got in the way of his intention to make a clean breast of it.

Warren E. Burger:

Wouldn't it be more accurate, Mr. Attorney General, perhaps to say there was no cat let out of the bag, because it was not a full confession, was it?

David B. Frohnmayer:

It was not a full confession.

It was a--

Warren E. Burger:

It was an acknowledgment of presence.

David B. Frohnmayer:

--That is correct.

An acknowledgment which is ambiguous in the sense that it could mean that the individual was a witness to, rather than a participant in the crime.

In any event, it is a far cry from earlier cases which this Court has decided in which a later confession is admitted, even though the earlier statement is far more indicative of complicity.

For example--

William H. Rehnquist:

What do you think the Oregon Court of Appeals meant when it used the phrase