United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Forklift Systems Inc

DOCKET NO.: 92-1812
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 511 US 350 (1994)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1994
DECIDED: May 02, 1994

Carlton F. Gunn – on behalf of the Respondent
Miguel A. Estrada – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Three days after his arrest by local police on state narcotics charges, Pedro Alvarez-Sanchez confessed to the Secret Service that federal reserve notes found in his home were counterfeit. When he was subsequently charged with the federal offense of possession of counterfeit currency, Alvarez defended himself by claiming that the delay between his arrest on state charges and his presentment on the federal charge rendered his confession inadmissible. Alvarez cited 18 U.S.C. Section 3501(c), which pronounced separate charge-based confessions inadmissible if obtained after the first six hours of detention. On appeal from a reversal of a district court’s decision to uphold the confession, the Supreme Court granted the United States certiorari.


Does federal statute 18 U.S.C. Section 3501(c), declaring separate charge-based confessions inadmissible if obtained after the first six hours of detention, apply to suspects that are held only on state or federal charges?

Media for United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 01, 1994 in United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 02, 1994 in United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 92-1812, United States versus Alvarez-Sanchez will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent was arrested on state narcotics charges by local police officers on a Friday afternoon.

On the following Monday, while he was still in local custody, he confessed to the United States Secret Service that he had known that the currency found in his possession by the police was counterfeit.

The agents arrested respondent on federal charges of unlawful possession of counterfeit currency.

He subsequently was convicted of this offense after a jury trial at which his confession was admitted into evidence.

The Court of Appeals vacated the conviction holding that respondent’s confession should have been suppressed under 18 U.S.C. 3501(c), part of the federal statute governing the admissibility of confessions in federal prosecutions.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings.

Section 3501(c) provides that if certain conditions have met, a confession made by a person while under arrest or detention shall not be inadmissible in a subsequent prosecution solely because of delay in bringing such person before a judicial officer empowered to commit persons charged with offenses against the laws of the United States.

The statutory term “delay” presumes an obligation to act.

There can be no delay in presenting a person to a federal magistrate until there is some obligation to bring the person before such a judicial officer.

Such a duty does not arise until the person has been arrested for a federal offense.

Thus, no delay for purposes of Section 3501(c) can occur until a person is arrested on a federal charge.

In context then, the arrest or other detention of which the subsection speaks is an arrest or other detention for violation of federal law.

In this case, respondent was under arrest on state narcotics charges at the time he made his confession to the secret service agents.

The terms of Section 3501(c), thus, did not apply to his statement, and therefore, Section 3501(c) did not authorize suppression of the confession.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Blackmun joins; Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.