LOCATION: Attorney General's Office of MA
DOCKET NO.: 99-1702
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
CITATION: 532 US 162 (2001)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 2001
DECIDED: Apr 02, 2001
Gregory S. Coleman - Austin, Texas, argued the cause for the petitioner
Lisa Schiavo Blatt -
Roy E. Greenwood - Argued the cause for the respondent
Facts of the case
In 1994, while under arrest for an unrelated offense, Raymond Levi Cobb confessed to a home burglary. Cobb, however, denied knowledge of the disappearance of a woman and child from the home. In 1995, after counsel was appointed to represent him in the burglary case, Cobb confessed to killing the woman and child to his father, who contacted the police. Cobb, now in custody, waived his rights under Miranda and confessed to the murders. Cobb was then indicted, convicted, and sentenced to death. On appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Cobb argued that his confession should have been suppressed because it was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which he claimed attached when counsel was appointed in the burglary case. In reversing, the court held that once the right to counsel attaches to the offense charged, it also attaches to any other offense that is very closely factually related to the offense charged.
Does the Sixth Amendment right to counsel extend to crimes that are "factually related" to those that have actually been charged?
Media for Texas v. CobbAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 2001 in Texas v. Cobb
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 02, 2001 in Texas v. Cobb
William H. Rehnquist:
I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 99-1702, Taxes against Cobb.
In December 1993 the home of Lindsey, Margaret and Kori Rae Owings was burglarized in Taxes.
Margaret and Kori Rae were missing.
Acting on a anonymous tip, the police questioned Cobb about the events and he ultimately confessed the burglary, but denied any involvement in the disappearances of Margaret and Kori Rae.
He was indicted for the burglary and counsel was appointed to represent him in connection with that charge.
While free on bond awaiting trial on the burglary case, Cobb confessed to his father that he had murdered Margaret and Kori Rae in the course of the burglary.
Cobb’s father informed local authority, who then secured a warrant for his arrest and took him under custody after waiving his Miranda rights, he confessed of the murders.
He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
On appeal The Court of Criminal Appeals of Taxes, Cobb argued that his confession to police should have been suppressed because it was obtained in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
He argued that the appointment of counsel on the burglary charge meant that police could not question him about the disappearances.
The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed holding that, once the right to counsel attaches to the offence charge it also attaches to any other offence that is very closely factually related to the offence charge.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the Taxes Court of Criminal Appeals.
In a case called McNeil against Wisconsin decided about ten years ago, we explained that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is offence specific.
However, several State Courts and Federal Courts of Appeals including the court below in this case have read into McNeil’s offence specific definition an exception for crimes that are what they call factually related to a charged offence.
Such an exception finds no support in our case law and we believe this is fundamentally misguided.
Preventing police from questioning charge defendants regarding uncharged defenses with seriously impair the ability of law enforcement officers to investigate and solve crimes.
Often times police simply will not know whether their investigation will touch upon crimes that are somehow factually related to charged defenses.
Requiring the police to foretell as yet unknown facts in order to avoid violating the Sixth Amendment would deter necessary police activity and lead to the exclusion of voluntary confessions.
Conversely defendants are particularly well situated to protect their rights to consult with counsel and remain silent.
Not only will defendants enjoy the full scope of their Fifth Amendment rights under Miranda versus Arizona, but they will have also the opportunity to consult with counsel in connection with the formal charges that have been brought.
We therefore hold that the Sixth Amendment right attaches only to a formally charged defense, as that term is defined under the test set forth in the Blockburger case.
Accordingly respondent’s right to counsel on the burglary charge did not encompass the entirely distinct defense of capital murder.
Respondent’s confession to the murders was properly admissible.
Justice Kennedy has filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Scalia and Thomas join; Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg join.