United States v. Morrison

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Hazel Morrison
LOCATION: Indiana State Employment Security Division

DOCKET NO.: 79-395
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 449 US 361 (1981)
ARGUED: Dec 10, 1980
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1981

ADVOCATES:
Peter Buscemi - on behalf of the Petitioner
Salvatore J. Cucinotta - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Hazel Morrison was indicted for distributing heroine and obtained private counsel for her defense. Without her counsel's knowledge two agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) conversed with her regarding a related investigation. During this conversation the agents advised that she have a public defender represent her instead of her private counsel. They also told her that the severity of her punishment would depend on how well she cooperated with them. Morrison notified her counselor immediately and did not speak to the agents about the investigation. She unsuccessfully petitioned the District Court to dismiss her indictment on the ground that the agents had violated her Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Morrison then entered a guilty plea to one count of the indictment. On appeal the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that Morrison's Sixth Amendment rights had been violated and ruled to drop all charges against her.

Question

Did the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit wrongfully dismiss criminal charges on the ground that the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated in a way that had no tangible effect upon court proceedings?

Media for United States v. Morrison

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1980 in United States v. Morrison

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 13, 1981 in United States v. Morrison

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in United States against Morrison will be announced by Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This case is here from the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after the respondent, Hazel Morrison was indicted on a drug charge.

And after she had retained counsel, government agents called upon her.

They sought her cooperation in a related case and among other things disparage her retained lawyer and suggested that he'd be replaced.

She would have none of it and reported the entire affair to her counsel.

She then moved to her counsel to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that her Sixth Amendment right to counsel had been violated.S

he alleged no specific prejudice to her case but nevertheless insisted that the indictment be dismissed.

The -- when the motion was denied, she pled guilty pursuant to a plea -- plea bargain with the Government.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and held not only that her Sixth Amendment rights had been violated, but that the conviction should be set aside in the indictment dismissed.

We brought the case here on certiorari at the Government's request, we reversed.

We hold that in the absence of showing some prejudice to the adequacy of her representation or some other impact -- adverse impact on the fairness of the trial or on the proceedings that it was error to order the indictment dismissed.

Accordingly, the judgment below is -- is reversed and the Court is unanimous in this regard.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice White.