Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984)

Minnesota v. Murphy

No. 82-827

Argued October 12, 1983
Decided February 22, 1984
465 U.S. 420



In 1980, respondent pleaded guilty to a sex-related charge in a Minnesota court, and was given a suspended prison sentence and placed on probation. The terms of his probation required him to participate in a treatment program for sexual offenders, to report to his probation officer periodically, and to be truthful with the officer "in all matters." During the course of a meeting with his probation officer, who had previously received information from a treatment counselor that respondent had admitted to a 1974 rape and murder, respondent, upon questioning, admitted that he had committed the rape and murder. After being indicted for first-degree murder, respondent sought to suppress the confession made to the probation officer on the ground that it was obtained in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Minnesota trial court found that respondent was not "in custody" at the time of the confession, and that the confession was neither compelled nor involuntary despite the absence of Miranda warnings. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed, holding that, notwithstanding the lack of custody in the usual sense, respondent’s failure to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when he was questioned was not fatal to his claim, because of the nature of his meeting with the probation officer, because he was under court order to respond truthfully, and because the probation officer had substantial reason to believe that respondent’s answers were likely to be incriminating.

Held: The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments did not prohibit the introduction into evidence of respondent’s admissions to the probation officer in respondent’s subsequent murder prosecution. Pp. 426-440.

(a) The general obligation to appear before his probation officer and answer questions truthfully did not, in itself, convert respondent’s otherwise voluntary statements into compelled ones. Pp. 427-429.

(b) A witness confronted with questions that the government should reasonably expect to elicit incriminating evidence ordinarily must assert the Fifth Amendment privilege, rather than answer if he desires not to incriminate himself. If he chooses to answer rather than to assert the privilege, his choice is considered to be voluntary, since he was free to claim the privilege and would suffer no penalty as a result of his decision to do so. P. 429.

(c) Respondent cannot claim the benefit of the "in custody" exception to the general rule that the Fifth Amendment privilege is not self-executing. It is clear that respondent was not "in custody" for purposes of receiving Miranda protection, since there was no formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with formal arrest. The factors that the probation officer could compel respondent’s attendance and truthful answers and consciously sought incriminating evidence, that respondent did not expect questions about prior criminal conduct and could not seek counsel before attending the meeting, and that there were no observers to guard against abuse or trickery, neither alone nor in combination, are sufficient to excuse respondent’s failure to claim the privilege in a timely manner. Pp. 429-434.

(d) Nor was respondent deterred from claiming the privilege against self-incrimination by a reasonably perceived threat of revocation of his probation so as to render the privilege self-executing. The legal compulsion to attend the meeting with the probation officer and to answer truthfully the questions of the officer who anticipated incriminating answers is indistinguishable from that felt by any witness who is required to appear and give testimony, and is insufficient to excuse respondent’s failure to exercise the privilege in a timely manner. Whether a subjective or objective test is applied, there is no reasonable basis for concluding that Minnesota attempted to attach an impermissible penalty to the exercise of the privilege. Pp. 434-439.

(e) As opposed to the cases involving federal taxes on gamblers, where the Fifth Amendment privilege may be exercised by failing to file a tax return, since, if the taxpayer claimed the privilege instead of filing a return, he necessarily identifies himself as a gambler, a probationer confronted with incriminating questions ordinarily would have no problem effectively claiming the privilege at the time the disclosures are requested. There is therefore no reason to forgive the requirement that the privilege claim be presented for evaluation in a timely manner. Pp. 439-440.

324 N.W.2d 340, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O’CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined and in all but Part II-A of which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 441.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984) in 465 U.S. 420 465 U.S. 421–465 U.S. 422. Original Sources, accessed July 24, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4YMBV642RXE99RB.

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984), in 465 U.S. 420, pp. 465 U.S. 421–465 U.S. 422. Original Sources. 24 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4YMBV642RXE99RB.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984). cited in 1984, 465 U.S. 420, pp.465 U.S. 421–465 U.S. 422. Original Sources, retrieved 24 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4YMBV642RXE99RB.