ILLINOIS v. PERKINS No. 88-1972 June 4, 1990

Facts: In November 1984, Richard Stephenson was murdered. The murder remained unsolved until March 1986, when one Donald Charlton told police that he had learned about a homicide from a fellow inmate. The fellow inmate was the respondent, Charlton told police that, while at Graham, he had befriended respondent, who told him in detail about a murder that respondent had committed in East St. Louis. On hearing Charlton’s account, the police recognized details of the Stephenson murder that were not well known, and so they treated Charlton’s story as a credible one. By the time the police heard Charlton’s account, respondent had been released from Graham, but police traced him to a jail in Montgomery County, Illinois, where he was being held pending trial on a charge of aggravated battery, unrelated to the Stephenson murder. The police wanted to investigate further respondent’s connection to the Stephenson murder, but feared that the use of an eavesdropping device would prove impracticable and unsafe. They decided instead to place an undercover agent in the cellblock with respondent and Charlton. The plan was for Charlton and undercover agent John Parisi to pose as escapees from a work release program who had been arrested in the course of a burglary. Parisi and Charlton were instructed to engage respondent in casual conversation and report anything he said about the Stephenson murder. Parisi, using the alias “Vito Bianco,” and Charlton, both clothed in jail garb, were placed in the cellblock with respondent at the Montgomery County jail. Respondent greeted Charlton who, after a brief conversation with respondent, introduced Parisi by his alias. Parisi suggested that the three of them escape. Respondent replied that they could “break out.” The trio met in respondent’s cell later that evening, after the other inmates were asleep, to refine their plan. Respondent said that his girlfriend could smuggle in a pistol. Charlton said: “Hey, I’m not a murderer, I’m a burglar. That’s your guys’ profession.” After telling Charlton that he would be responsible for any murder that occurred, Parisi asked respondent if he had ever “done” anybody. Respondent said that he had and proceeded to describe at length the events of the Stephenson murder. Parisi and respondent then engaged in some casual conversation before respondent went to sleep. Parisi did not give respondent Miranda warnings before the conversations. Respondent was charged with the Stephenson murder. Before trial, he moved to suppress the statements made to Parisi in the jail. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, and the State appealed. The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed, prohibits all undercover contacts with incarcerated suspects that are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.

Issue: Whether deception of an undercover police posing as an inmate to gather incriminating information against the incarcerated accused violated the right to privacy of communication of the latter.

 

Held: No, An undercover law enforcement officer posing as a fellow inmate need not give Miranda warnings to an incarcerated suspect before asking questions that may elicit an incriminating response. The Miranda doctrine must be enforced strictly, but only in situations where the concerns underlying that decision are present. Those concerns are not implicated here, since the essential ingredients of a “police-dominated atmosphere” and compulsion are lacking. It is Miranda’s premise that the danger of coercion results from the interaction of custody and official interrogation, whereby the suspect may feel compelled to speak by the fear of reprisal for remaining silent or in the hope of more lenient treatment should he confess. That coercive atmosphere is not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone whom he believes to be a fellow inmate and whom he assumes is not an officer having official power over him. In such circumstances, Miranda does not forbid mere strategic deception by taking advantage of a suspect’s misplaced trust. Detention, however, whether or not for the crime in question, does not warrant a presumption that such use of an undercover agent renders involuntary the incarcerated suspect’s resulting confession. That an inmate’s statements to a known agent were inadmissible because no Miranda warnings were given – is distinguishable. Where the suspect does not know that he is speaking to a government agent, there is no reason to assume the possibility of coercion.

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