The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination prohibits the government’s use at trial of a suspect’s statements given during custodial interrogation, unless the warnings set forth in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), were given. These warnings are intended to dispel coercion inherent in a police-dominated atmosphere. In Illinois v. Perkins, the Supreme Court held that the use of an undercover officer for interrogation did not implicate concerns about coercion.
While incarcerated on unrelated matters, Perkins told Charlton, a fellow inmate, about a murder he had committed. After learning of this conversation, the police placed an undercover officer and Charlton in the cellblock with Perkins. The undercover officer, under the guise of discussing a possible jail escape, elicited information from Perkins about the murder. Perkins was then charged with the murder, but the trial court prohibited the government from using his cellblock statements.
Given that compulsion is determined from the suspect’s point of view, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that concerns regarding police coercion and self-incrimination were not present when a suspect speaks voluntarily to someone whom he believes is a fellow inmate. The Court distinguished other custodial interrogation cases. Those suspects knew they were speaking to government agents and might have felt coerced as a result. Because Perkins had not been charged with the murder, the Court also noted that he was not protected by the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
The Perkins decision is significant because the Court distinguished police coercion, which is always unconstitutional, from police deception, which may or may not rise to the level of coercion.
MARGARET M. LAWTON
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Coerced Confessions; Jailhouse Informants; Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964); Mathis v. United States, 391 U.S. 1 (1968); Miranda Warning; Orozco v. Texas, 394 U.S. 324 (1969); Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980); Rights of the Accused