Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980)

Innis clarified ‘‘interrogation’’ under Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which required police to apprise a suspect of the Fifth Amendment right to silence during custodial interrogation. Police officers arrested Innis for the murder of a taxi driver. They repeatedly read Innis his rights, and he requested an attorney. Two officers later conversed in Innis’s presence about the missing murder weapon. One officer mentioned a school for disabled children in the area, stating ‘‘God forbid one of them might find a weapon with shells and ... hurt themselves.’’ This conversation continued until Innis disclosed the firearm’s location. A conviction resulted from this evidence.

On appeal, Innis argued that introduction of his statements was error. Given that Miranda’s custody component was met, the issue was whether the conversation constituted interrogation. The Supreme Court defined interrogation as ‘‘not only express questioning, but also ... any words or actions ... police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response....’’ Although this test is objective, the suspect’s subjective susceptibilities are also relevant.

The Court (six to three) construed the police comments as offhand remarks that were not particularly evocative. Thus, they were not the ‘‘functional equivalent’’ of interrogation since a reasonable person would not have been moved to forgo the right of silence. Justices Marshall and Brennan dissented, agreeing with the formulation of the interrogation rule, but disagreeing that the conversation was not interrogation. Justice Stevens vociferously dissented, asserting that the interrogation definition should be far broader.

LOUIS N. SCHULZE, JR.

References and Further Reading

  • Helderman, Alexander S., Revisiting Rhode Island v. Innis: Offering a New Interpretation of the Interrogation Test, Creighton Law Review 33 (2000): 729.
  • Jenning, Janice L., Note: Conversation between Police Officers Eliciting Admission by Suspect Not a Miranda Interrogation Unless the Officers Should Have Known Their Words or Actions Were Reasonably Likely to Elicit and Incriminating Response, St. Mary’s Law Journal 12 (1980): 544.
  • Leo, Richard A., Questioning the Relevance of Miranda in the Twenty-First Century, Michigan Law Review 99 (2001): 1000. 

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977).
  • Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964).
  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

See also Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961); Marshall, Thurgood; Miranda Warning; Rights of the Accused; Self-Incrimination (V): Historical Background

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