Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964)

The Sixth Amendment guarantees an accused person the effective assistance of counsel. In Massiah v. United States, the Supreme Court found that the Sixth Amendment could apply even when the accused is unaware that he needs assistance.

After being indicted for violating federal narcotics law, Massiah retained a lawyer and was released on bail. Prior to a meeting with Massiah and without his knowledge, codefendant Colson, who was cooperating with government agents, allowed a federal agent to install a radio transmitter under the front seat of his automobile. This transmitter allowed the agent to overhear conversations in Colson’s car, including one in which Massiah made incriminating statements. At Massiah’s trial, the agent testified to these statements, over defense counsel’s objection, and Massiah was convicted.

The Court determined that the government’s use of Massiah’s statements denied him Sixth Amendment protection. Earlier cases had described the assistance of counsel as vital during the period between arraignment and trial. Although Massiah did not realize that a government agent was listening, the Court reasoned he was still entitled to counsel because he had been indicted. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment bars the use at trial of a criminal defendant’s statements when those statements have been deliberately elicited by federal agents after indictment and in the absence of counsel.

Later cases expanded Massiah by holding that a criminal defendant’s right to counsel arises when adversarial judicial proceedings have been initiated against him, not just after indictment. This right applies to deliberate elicitation, surreptitious or not, by government agents.

MARGARET M. LAWTON

References and Further Reading

  • American Jurisprudence, 2nd ed., vol. 21A (Criminal Law), sec. 1206 (West Group, 1998), and vol. 29A (Evidence), sec. 750 (Lawyers Cooperative Publishing, 1994).
  • Dressler, Joshua. Understanding Criminal Procedure, 3rd ed. LexisNexis Publishing, 2002, pp. 508–523.
  • LaFave, Wayne R., Jerold Israel, and Nancy J. King. Criminal Procedure, vol. 2. Criminal Practice Series. St. Paul, MN: West Group, 1999, chapter 6, sec. 4(b-e).
  • Maine v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159 (1985).
  • Tomkovicz, James J., An Adversary System Defense of the Right to Counsel Against Informants: Truth, Fair Play, and the Massiah Doctrine, University of California Davis Law Review 22 (1988): 1–92.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977)
  • Kirby v. Illinois, 406 U.S. 682 (1972)
  • Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 477 U.S. 436 (1986)
  • Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932)
  • United States v. Henry, 447 U.S. 264 (1980)

See also Coerced Confessions/Police Interrogations; Due Process of Law (V and XIV); Rights of the Accused; Right to Counsel; Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315 (1959)

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