Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 778 (2009).

This case addresses the following issue:

Does the Sixth Amendment’s right to assistance of legal counsel prevent police for interrogating a suspect, after his or her arraignment, without legal counsel present?

This case deals with the differences between the Fifth Amendment’s right to legal counsel and the Sixth Amendment’s right to legal counsel. Id. at 2085. The confusion arose largely from the Court’s previous decision in Michigan v. Jackson, 475 U.S. 625 (1985), which held that once the Sixth Amendment right to counsel had been invoked—such as at a preliminary hearing—any waiver of that right in a later interrogation by police was invalid unless the defendant sought the communication on his or her own. Id. at 2086. Lower courts had difficulty in reconciling this with Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), which held that invoking the Fifth Amendment’s right to counsel required all further interrogation to cease permanently until counsel was present. Id. at 2085. Ultimately, the Court determined Jackson was unnecessary and the source of this confusion, so it decided to overrule that case, which would allow a defendant to voluntarily waive the right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment for an interrogation, even after the Sixth Amendment right to counsel has attached. Id. at 2091.

In this case, the defendant was arrested for robbery and murder. Id. at 2082. Defendant waived his right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment and spoke to the police. Id. He was later brought before a judge for a preliminary hearing, where the judge ordered counsel to be appointed to represent defendant. Id. The defendant was taken back to jail, and when he arrived he was approached by two officers. Id. Defendant was read Miranda rights and again waived his right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment, at which time he was taken to locate the murder weapon. Id. During this trip, defendant penned a letter apologizing to the victim’s widow. Id. This letter was used to convict the defendant. Id.

The Court began by declining to adopt either the Louisiana Supreme Court’s rule—requiring an affirmative assertion of the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel, rather than a passive assertion that occurred here—and defendant’s rule—requiring “no represented defendant can be approached by the State and asked to consent to interrogation.” Id. at 2083-84, 2086. Instead, the Court decided to reexamine the practicality of Jackson altogether. Id. at 2088.

The Court noted that the rule in Edwards exists “to prevent police from badgering a defendant into waiving his previously asserted Miranda rights.” Id. at 2085. Jackson relied upon Edwards and applied it to the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel. Id. at 2086. However, the Court found that the danger that birthed the Edwards rule does not exist in the context of the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel. Id. at 2087. Instead, a more practical protection existed: invoking of the Fifth Amendment right in the first instance. Id. at 2089. The Court found Jackson unworkable, young, free of reliance interests, and of poor reasoning—all reasons to abandon the decision over the principle of stare decisis. Id. Thus, the Court overruled the decision altogether. Id. at 2091. If a defendant has invoked the Fifth Amendment right to counsel, no interrogation may be requested by police at any point going forward; if only the Sixth Amendment right to counsel has been invoked, police may approach the defendant to ask for an interrogation and so long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary, any statement made is admissible against the defendant. Id.