Duckworth v. Eagan (1989)

Supreme Court of the United States

Jack R. Duckworth v. Gary James Eagan 

Decided June 26, 1989 – 492 U.S. 195


Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent confessed to stabbing a woman nine times after she refused to have sexual relations with him, and he was convicted of attempted murder. Before confessing, respondent was given warnings by the police, which included the advice that a lawyer would be appointed “if and when you go to court.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that such advice did not comply with the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona. We disagree and reverse.

Late on May 16, 1982, respondent contacted a Chicago police officer he knew to report that he had seen the naked body of a dead woman lying on a Lake Michigan beach. Respondent denied any involvement in criminal activity. He then took several Chicago police officers to the beach, where the woman was crying for help. When she saw respondent, the woman exclaimed: “Why did you stab me? Why did you stab me?” Respondent told the officers that he had been with the woman earlier that night, but that they had been attacked by several men who abducted the woman in a van.

The next morning, after realizing that the crime had been committed in Indiana, the Chicago police turned the investigation over to the Hammond, Indiana, Police Department. Respondent repeated to the Hammond police officers his story that he had been attacked on the lakefront, and that the woman had been abducted by several men. After he filled out a battery complaint at a local police station, respondent agreed to go to the Hammond police headquarters for further questioning.

At about 11 a.m., the Hammond police questioned respondent. Before doing so, the police read to respondent a waiver form, entitled “Voluntary Appearance; Advice of Rights,” and they asked him to sign it. The form provided:

“Before we ask you any questions, you must understand your rights. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have a right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions, and to have him with you during questioning. You have this right to the advice and presence of a lawyer even if you cannot afford to hire one. We have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when you go to court. If you wish to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering questions at any time. You also have the right to stop answering at any time until you’ve talked to a lawyer.” 

Respondent signed the form and repeated his exculpatory explanation for his activities of the previous evening.

Respondent was then placed in the “lock up” at the Hammond police headquarters. Some 29 hours later, at about 4 p.m. on May 18, the police again interviewed respondent. Before this questioning, one of the officers read the following waiver form to respondent:

[The waiver form presented the Miranda warnings in a standard way.]

Respondent read the form back to the officers and signed it. He proceeded to confess to stabbing the woman. The next morning, respondent led the officers to the Lake Michigan beach where they recovered the knife he had used in the stabbing and several items of clothing.


In Miranda itself, the Court said that “[t]he warnings required and the waiver necessary in accordance with our opinion today are, in the absence of a fully effective equivalent, prerequisites to the admissibility of any statement made by a defendant.” 

We think the initial warnings given to respondent touched all of the bases required by Miranda. The police told respondent that he had the right to remain silent, that anything he said could be used against him in court, that he had the right to speak to an attorney before and during questioning, that he had “this right to the advice and presence of a lawyer even if [he could] not afford to hire one,” and that he had the “right to stop answering at any time until [he] talked to a lawyer.” As noted, the police also added that they could not provide respondent with a lawyer, but that one would be appointed “if and when you go to court.” The Court of Appeals thought this “if and when you go to court” language suggested that “only those accused who can afford an attorney have the right to have one present before answering any questions,” and “implie[d] that if the accused does not ‘go to court,’ i.e.[,] the government does not file charges, the accused is not entitled to [counsel] at all.”

In our view, the Court of Appeals misapprehended the effect of the inclusion of “if and when you go to court” language in Miranda warnings. First, this instruction accurately described the procedure for the appointment of counsel in Indiana. Under Indiana law, counsel is appointed at the defendant’s initial appearance in court, and formal charges must be filed at or before that hearing. We think it must be relatively commonplace for a suspect, after receiving Miranda warnings, to ask when he will obtain counsel. The “if and when you go to court” advice simply anticipates that question. Second, Miranda does not require that attorneys be producible on call, but only that the suspect be informed, as here, that he has the right to an attorney before and during questioning, and that an attorney would be appointed for him if he could not afford one. The Court in Miranda emphasized that it was not suggesting that “each police station must have a ‘station house lawyer’ present at all times to advise prisoners.” If the police cannot provide appointed counsel, Miranda requires only that the police not question a suspect unless he waives his right to counsel. Here, respondent did just that. 

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, and with whom Justice BLACKMUN and Justice STEVENS join, dissenting.

The majority holds today that a police warning advising a suspect that he is entitled to an appointed lawyer only “if and when he goes to court” satisfies the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona. The majority reaches this result by seriously mischaracterizing that decision. Under Miranda, a police warning must “clearly infor[m]” a suspect taken into custody “that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.” A warning qualified by an “if and when you go to court” caveat does nothing of the kind; instead, it leads the suspect to believe that a lawyer will not be provided until some indeterminate time in the future after questioning. I refuse to acquiesce in the continuing debasement of this historic precedent and therefore dissent. 

Notes, Comments, and Questions 


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Criminal Procedure: Undergraduate Edition Copyright © 2022 by Christopher E. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book