LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
DOCKET NO.: 79-121
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
CITATION: 447 US 264 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 16, 1980
Mr. Andrew L. Frey - for petitioner
Michael E. Geltner - for respondent
Facts of the case
Media for United States v. Henry
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1980 in United States v. Henry
Warren E. Burger:
We'll hear arguments next in United States against Henry.
Mr. Frey, I think you may proceed.
Mr. Andrew L. Frey:
Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.
This case is here on the Government's petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
That Court granted respondent collateral relief from his conviction on the ground that certain testimony admitted at his trial of a jail cellmate was admitted in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
In the Fall of 1972, respondent was arrested and indicted on a charge of participation in a bank robbery in Norfolk, Virginia.
At his trial some months later, the prosecution's evidence included the testimony of two individuals who had been cellmates of respondent's at the Norfolk jail during the period between respondent's indictment and his trial.
One of the cellmates, Nichols, was a Government informant, the other Saddler was not.
Both men testified about damaging admissions that respondent had made to them which indicated that he was a participant in the bank robbery.
Several years later, respondent filed a motion for collateral relief in which he charged for the first time, among other things, that the admission of Nichols' testimony violated his Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel.
His motion was denied, but on appeal the Court of Appeals remanded for an evidentiary inquiry into the claim.
On remand, the District Court again denied the motion without a hearing on the basis of affidavits submitted by the two FBI agents regarding the nature of their contacts with the witness Nichols.
The significant affidavit for purposes of this case was that of Agent Coughlan.
Perhaps the best way to put the issue that is before the Court today into focus, is if I read the pertinent excerpts from his affidavit which are at Page -- begin at Page 57 (a) of the appendix of the petition for writ of certiorari.
Agent Coughlan averred that on November 21, 1972, I contacted it with Benjamin Nichols at the Norfolk City Jail.
Nichols had been contacted by me for approximately a year prior to this and during my contacts with him he had provided confidential information to the FBI and had been paid for it.
The time that I contacted Nichols, Nichols advice that he was in the same cellblock as Billy Gale Henry as well as other prisoners who had federal charges against them.
I recall telling Nichols at this time to be alert to any statements made by these individuals regarding the charges against them.
I specifically recall telling Nichols that he was not to question Henry or these individuals about the charges against them, however, but if they engaged them in conversation or talked in front of him, he was requested to pay attention to their statements.
I recall telling Nichols not to initiate any conversations with Henry regarding the bank robbery charges against Henry that if Henry initiated the conversations with Nichols, I requested Nichols to pay attention to the information furnished.
The affidavit goes on to relate the provision of information to -- by Nichols to the agent after Nichols got out of jail and then it states at Page 59 (a), Nichols was paid by the FBI for expenses and services in connection with the request that Henry had made of him in jail and for the information furnished by Nichols.
Finally, it says I never requested that anyone affiliated with the Norfolk City Jail to place Edward Benjamin Nichols in the same cell of Henry.
Now, on the basis essentially of this affidavit, the District Court denied relief and on exactly the same basis, the Court of Appeals majority upheld respondent's Sixth Amendment claim.
The Court described the issue before it is whether undisclosed Government monitoring of respondent's conversations while he was in custody violated his right to counsel.
In responding to the Government's argument based on language in Brewer against Williams suggesting that some form of interrogation is a prerequisite to finding a Massiah violation, the court held that requirement satisfied by general conversation.
The holding which is under review today may perhaps best be summarized in the following statement from the Court of Appeals' opinion.
In the instant case, even if we assume that Nichols obeyed these instructions not to interrogate Henry about the bank robbery, Nichols did testify that he engaged in conversation with his cellmate Henry.
If by association, by general conversation or both, Henry developed sufficient confidents in Nichols that Nichols bared, excuse me, that Henry bared his incriminating secrets to a non-disclose paid informer, we think that there was interrogation within the meaning of Brewer and therefore violation of the Massiah doctrine.
William H. Rehnquist:
Do you think this is basically a question of fact or law?
Mr. Andrew L. Frey:
Question of law as the case now stands.