Brewer v. Williams

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In Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 margin that a murder conviction must be overturned because the defendant led officers to the victims body without the presence of defense counsel. In dissent, Chief Justice Warren Burger broke from his ordinarly reserved and dignified mannerisms and declared, "The result in this case ought to be intolerable in any society which purports to call itself an organized society."

The basis for the Court to overturn the conviction was that a police officer delivered to the defendant, during a 160-mile car ride in Iowa, what became known as the "Christian burial speech":

"I want to give you something to think about while we're traveling down the road .... Number one, I want you to observe the weather conditions, it's raining, it's sleeting, it's freezing, driving is very treacherous, visibility is poor, it's going to be dark early this evening. They are predicting several inches of snow for tonight, and I feel that you yourself are the only person that knows where this little girl's body is, that you yourself have only been there once, and if you get a snow on top of it you yourself may be unable to find it. And, since we will be going right past the area on the way into Des Moines, I feel that we could stop and locate the body, that the parents of this little girl should be entitled to a Christian burial for the little girl who was snatched away from them on Christmas [E]ve and murdered. And I feel we should stop and locate it on the way in rather than waiting until morning and trying to come back out after a snow storm and possibly not being able to find it at all."

The officer knew that defendant had already been arraigned and had been advised by his defense attorney not to answer any questioning as mandated by the rule of Miranda v. Arizona. The officer stated, "I do not want you to answer me. I don't want to discuss it any further. Just think about it as we're riding down the road."

Evidently the speech was effective, because the defendant directed the officers to the dead body, thereby proving he had committed the crime. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision written by the conservative-leaning Justice Potter Stewart, overturned the conviction based on the Sixth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination.

After a second trial, where Williams' statements were not admitted, but where evidence of the body was admitted, Williams was again convicted. This time, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction in Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984).

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