Escobedo v. State of Illinois: The Accused’s Right to Counsel

December 14th, 2013

Written for the National Association of Professional Women
Springfield, Mo Local Chapter in Legal Corner Monthly Spotlight

By: Heather Rooney McBride and Danielle R. Kerckhoff

The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides, in part, that an accused person shall have the right to “have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” Although it was understood that a defendant was guaranteed a right to an attorney during a trial, prior to 1964 it was unclear if and when the right applied before the trial. Does a person have a right to an attorney prior to being charged with a crime? Does a person have a right to an attorney when being questioned by police on the street? The 1964 Supreme Court case Escobedo v. State of Illinois1 interpreted the Sixth Amendment and answered some of these questions.

In Escobedo, Danny Escobedo was arrested on suspicion of murder and questioned by the police for over fourteen hours.2 During this interrogation, Escobedo made no statement to the police.3 Eleven days later, the police re-arrested Escobedo and took him to police headquarters for questioning; he was not formally charged, but was in custody and was not free to leave.4 At that time, Escobedo repeatedly requested to speak to his attorney.5 Escobedo’s attorney, likewise, was at the police station and repeatedly requested to speak to his client.6 Both requests were denied because the police had not finished questioning Escobedo.7

During the interrogation, Escobedo denied shooting the murder victim, but implicated himself by admitting that he was present at the time of the shooting.8 Under most accomplice liability law, an accomplice can be found guilty for crimes committed by another person if the accomplice aids, assists, or encourages the crime.9 Based on these statements during his police interrogation and his accomplice liability, Escobedo was convicted of murder.10

On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States examined whether Escobedo’s right to an attorney under the Sixth Amendment was triggered upon questioning by the police.11 The Supreme Court noted that history, both modern and ancient, shows that relying on confessions will result in abusive practices and a lack of skillful investigation, resulting in innocent people being jeopardized.12 The Court also noted that if the criminal justice system is fearful that an accused person will be permitted to consult with a lawyer, the criminal justice system is not worth preserving, and “there is something very wrong with that system.”13 Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that when a police investigation shifts from an investigation to an accusation, an accused person is permitted to consult with an attorney.14

This year we recognize the fiftieth anniversary of the Escobedo decision. Escobedo was decided two years before Miranda v. Arizona,15 in which the Supreme Court held that statements made by an accused person during a police custodial interrogation are inadmissible in court unless that accused person is clearly informed of his rights.16 The informing of these rights has come to be known as the “Miranda warning.”17 The Escobedo decision paved the way for the Miranda decision by recognizing that a person’s Constitutional rights begin before arriving at the courthouse steps on the day of trial.

[hr]

1 378 U.S. 478 (1964).

2 Escobedo v. State of Ill., 378 U.S. 478, 479 (1964).

3 Id.

4 Id.

5 Id. at 479-80

6 Id. at 480

7 Id.

8 Id. at 483

9 See generally Missouri v. Stockdale, 415 S.W.2d 769, 772 (Mo. 1967).

10 Escobedo, at 483.

11 Id. at 486-92

12 Id. at 488-89

13 Id. at 490

14 Id. at 492

15 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

16 Id. at 467-68

17 The Miranda Warning is something most people in the United States are very familiar with by now. It typically begins with “you have the right to remain silent…”

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