It's time to confess that Brown v. Illinois isn't working: purging the taint from the Supreme Court's attenuation jurisprudence.

AuthorDedopoulos, Meredith L.

"[O]urs is an accusatorial and not an inquisitorial system--a system in which the State must establish guilt by evidence independently and freely secured and may not by coercion prove its charge against an accused out of his own mouth." (1)

  1. Introduction

    A confession can often be the most powerful piece of evidence in a criminal case. As the United States Supreme Court has acknowledged, "the introduction of a confession makes the other aspects of a trial in court superfluous, and the real trial, for all practical purposes, occurs when the confession is obtained." (2) Given the influential role that a confession plays in determining the outcome of a criminal case, the legal system should be especially concerned with the analyses the court employs in deciding whether to admit a confession into evidence. (3) In particular, the court must be concerned about the possibility that a confession may be false, in which case admission of the confession will very likely produce a wrongful conviction. (4) Apart from the false confession concern, the court should also be concerned about the fairness of the way in which the confession was obtained.

    The latter concern has been the subject of many Supreme Court cases, the most important of which was Brown v. Illinois, (5) Brown and its progeny provide the proper framework for an attenuation analysis, which the courts use to decide whether statements obtained subsequent to an illegal arrest should be excluded from trial. (6) In assessing whether a statement made after an illegal arrest has been purged of the taint of that arrest, and is therefore admissible, the court considers whether Miranda warnings were issued, the temporal proximity between the arrest and the statement, whether any intervening circumstances occurred during that time, and the flagrancy and purposefulness of the police misconduct. (7)

    This note dissects the Brown framework and examines how subsequent Supreme Court jurisprudence has modified this framework. (8) Next, the note analyzes how the lower federal courts have applied the attenuation analysis, highlighting the consequences of the Supreme Court's inconsistent language with respect to the Miranda factor, which has produced varying results among the lower courts. The note also discusses the difficulties of applying the framework in other contexts that do not involve an illegal arrest. (9) Next, the note discusses the divergent interpretations of the police misconduct factor by the federal courts. (10) Finally, the note recommends that courts apply the Brown framework as a threshold Miranda inquiry and then a three-factor balancing test. The note also recommends that courts adopt a broad view of the police misconduct factor in order to give effect to the policies underlying the attenuation doctrine. (11)


    1. Introduction to the Exclusionary Rule

      The exclusionary rule is a judicially created doctrine that precludes the government from using at trial evidence obtained as a result of a violation of the defendant's search and seizure rights. (12) Although the Fourth Amendment states that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated," (13) the Amendment does not specify any mechanism to enforce that right. (14) Accordingly, the Supreme Court adopted the exclusionary rule in order to provide a remedy for Fourth Amendment violations. (15)

      The exclusionary rule does not apply automatically, however, in every case that involves a Fourth Amendment violation. In order for the exclusionary rule to apply, the evidence at issue must be the product of a Fourth Amendment violation. (16) Additionally, there are several exceptions to the exclusionary rule, including the independent source doctrine, the inevitable discovery doctrine, the good faith exception, and the attenuation doctrine. (17) The last exception--the attenuation doctrine--is the subject of this note. In the following sections, the history of the attenuation doctrine is discussed, with a specific focus on the seminal case of Brown v. Illinois.

    2. Underpinnings of the Attenuation Doctrine: Wong Sun

      More than a decade before Brown was decided, the United States Supreme Court provided key language for the attenuation doctrine in Wong Sun v. United States. (18) In Wong Sun, petitioners James Wah Toy and Wong Sun confessed to involvement in drug-related crimes after being arrested by federal agents; (19) they were later tried and convicted for narcotics offenses. (20) After agreeing with the Ninth Circuit's finding that the police officers unlawfully entered petitioner Toy's residence and also unlawfully arrested him, the Supreme Court proceeded to determine "what consequences flow from this conclusion." (21) The Court then discussed the fruit-of-the poisonous-tree doctrine, (22) specifically the rationale behind the exclusionary rule (23) and the scope of this rule. (24) The Court noted that, in the case of petitioner Toy, Toy's statements to the police immediately after being arrested were not "sufficiently an act of free will to purge the primary taint of the unlawful invasion," and thus those statements should have been suppressed at trial. (25) With respect to whether the suppression of Toy's statements also required the suppression of the drugs found on Yee, the Court explained the pertinent inquiry under the attenuation doctrine:

      We need not hold that all evidence is "fruit of the poisonous tree" simply because it would not have come to light but for the illegal actions of the police. Rather, the more apt question in such a case is "whether, granting establishment of the primary illegality, the evidence to which instant objection is made has been come at by exploitation of that illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint." (26) The Court concluded that "the narcotics were 'come at by the exploitation of that illegality' and hence ... they may not be used against Toy." (27)

    3. The Seminal Case: Brown v. Illinois

      Twelve years after Wong Sun, the Supreme Court further defined the attenuation doctrine in Brown v. Illinois. This time, the Court had to decide whether the issuance of Miranda warnings was enough to dissipate the taint of an unlawful arrest and render a subsequent confession admissible. (28) In deciding Brown, the Court announced a framework for the lower courts to use in analyzing whether a confession obtained after an unlawful arrest may be used against the defendant at trial. (29)

      The facts of Brown were seemingly uncontested. (30) Shortly after the murder of Roger Corpus, Chicago Police detectives learned the names of some of Corpus's acquaintances, including that of petitioner Richard Brown. (31) On that basis alone, and without any type of warrant, Detectives Lenz and Nolan, along with a third police officer, went to Brown's apartment in the evening hours--around 5:00 p.m.--on May 13, 1968. (32) Brown was not home. (33) While the third officer stood guard downstairs at the front entrance, the detectives forcibly broke into the apartment and searched it. (34) After searching the apartment, Detective Lenz waited near the rear entrance to the apartment, watching the back porch through a window, while Detective Nolan waited near the front door. (35) At about 7:45 p.m., Detective Lenz observed someone coming up the back stairs, a man he later learned was Richard Brown. (36) As Brown got to the top of the stairs, he looked into the window and saw a stranger--whom he later learned was Detective Lenz--pointing a revolver at him. (37) The stranger (Lenz) told Brown, "Don't move, you are under arrest." (38) Detective Nolan--also a stranger to Brown at that point--came up behind Brown with his gun and also told Brown he was under arrest. (39)

      Detectives Lenz and Nolan continued to hold Brown at gunpoint as they all entered the apartment. (40) The detectives told Brown to stand against the wall and searched him; they did not find a weapon. (41) When the detectives asked Brown his name, he denied being Richard Brown. (42) At this point, Detective Lenz showed him a photograph of Brown that the police had brought with them to the apartment, then told Brown that he was under arrest for Corpus's murder, put him in handcuffs, and brought him to the police car. (43)

      After the twenty-minute drive to the police station, (44) the detectives put Brown in an interrogation room, where he was left alone for a short while, until the policemen returned with the Corpus homicide file. (45) The detectives advised Brown of his Miranda rights. (46) During the interrogation, Brown inculpated himself in Corpus's murder. (47)

      After giving and signing the statement, Brown left the station with the two detectives to go look for Claggett (the man Brown had identified as the shooter) at around 9:30 p.m. (48) When they eventually spotted Claggett, the detectives arrested him and transported both Claggett and Brown back to the station. (49) Brown was placed in the interrogation room, given coffee, and left alone for almost two hours until Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Crilly got there. (50) ASA Crilly administered Miranda warnings to Brown and they spoke for about thirty minutes. (51) A court reporter arrived, and Crilly read Brown his Miranda warnings once more. (52) After Crilly told Brown that he would definitely be charged with murder, Brown made a second statement about Corpus's murder. (53) Six hours later, and fourteen hours after he was first arrested, Brown was taken before a magistrate. (54)

      After being indicted for murder and prior to trial, Brown moved to suppress his two inculpatory statements, alleging that the statements were taken in violation of his constitutional rights because he had been illegally arrested and detained prior to making them. (55) The trial court denied this motion, and Brown was convicted at...

To continue reading

Request your trial