Illinois v. Perkins
Decided on June 4, 1990; 496 US 292


A. Issues Discussed: Miranda warning and self-incrimination

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a fellow inmate need to give Miranda warnings to an incarcerated suspect before asking questions that may elicit an incriminating response?


A. Background:

"On November 1984, Richard Stephenson was murdered in a suburb of East St. Louis, Illinois. The murder remained unsolved until March 1986, when one Donald Charlton told police that he had learned about a homicide from a fellow inmate at the Graham Correctional Facility, where Charlton had been serving a sentence for burglary. The fellow inmate was Lloyd Perkins, who is the respondent here. 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. The cellblock consisted of 12 separate cells that opened onto a common room. Respondent greeted Charlton who, after a brief conversation with respondent, introduced Parisi by his alias. Parisi told respondent that he 'wasn't going to do any more time' and suggested that the three of them escape. Respondent replied that the Montgomery County jail was 'rinky-dink' and 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 holding that Miranda v. Arizona prohibits all undercover contacts with incarcerated suspects that are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response."

On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the 5th District Appellate Court of Illinois.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Brief of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the ACLU by John A. Powell, William B. Rubenstein, and Harvey Grossman.

Dan W. Evers argued the cause for the respondent. With him on the brief was Daniel M. Kirwan.
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Paul J. Larkin, Jr. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Dennis, and Deputy Solicitor General Bryson; For Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. by Gregory U. Evans, Daniel B. Hales, George D. Webster, Jack E. Yelverton, Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, Bernard J. Farber, and James P. Manak; and for the Lincoln Legal Foundation et al. by Joseph A. Morris, Donald D. Bernardi, Fred L. Foreman, Daniel M. Harrod, and Jack E. Yelverton.

Marcia L. Friedl, Assistant Attorney General of Illinois, argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs were Neil F. Hartigan, Attorney General, Robert J. Ruiz, Solicitor General, and Terence M. Madsen and Jack Donatelli, Assistant Attorneys General.


"Conversations between suspects and undercover agents do not implicate the concerns underlying Miranda. The essential ingredients of a 'police-dominated atmosphere' and compulsion are not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone whom he believes to be a fellow inmate. Coercion is determined from the perspective of the suspect. When a suspect considers himself in the company of cellmates and not officers, the coercive atmosphere is lacking. There is no empirical basis for the assumption that a suspect speaking to those whom he assumes are not officers will feel compelled to speak by the fear of reprisal for remaining silent or in the hope of more lenient treatment should he confess.

...Miranda forbids coercion, not mere strategic deception by taking advantage of a suspect's misplaced trust in one he supposes to be a fellow prisoner. As we recognized in Miranda: 'Confessions remain a proper element in law enforcement. Any statement given freely and voluntarily without any compelling influences is, of course, admissible in evidence.' Ploys to mislead a suspect or lull him into a false sense of security that do not rise to the level of compulsion or coercion to speak are not within Miranda's concerns.

Respondent can seek no help from his argument that a bright-line rule for the application of Miranda is desirable. Law enforcement officers will have little difficulty putting into practice our holding that undercover agents need not give Miranda warnings to incarcerated suspects. The use of undercover agents is a recognized law enforcement technique, often employed in the prison context to detect violence against correctional officials or inmates, as well as for the purposes served here. The interests protected by Miranda are not implicated in these cases, and the warnings are not required to safeguard the constitutional rights of inmates who make voluntary statements to undercover agents."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the 5th District Appellate Court of Illinois.
Justice Vote: 1 Pro vs. 8 Con

  • Marshall, T. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.P. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S.D. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged affirmance of the 5th District Appellate Court of Illinois judgment; the Supreme Court reversed in an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.