Withrow v. Williams
Decided on Apr. 21, 1993; 507 US 680


A. Issues Discussed:  Criminal justice (procedure), habeas corpus, 14th Amendment, Fifth Amendment - protection against self-incrimination, and Fourth Amendment -protection against unreasonable search and seizure. 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the Supreme Court's ruling in Stone v. Powell that federal habeas corpus review does not cover Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure claims when defendants have already been given a fair chance to argue those claims in state court also apply to Fifth Amendment claims stemming from the withholding of Miranda warnings?


A. Background:

Respondent, Robert Williams, was questioned by police regarding a murder. He was not read his Miranda rights and made several self-incriminating statements. Eventually, about 40 minutes into the questioning, the police gave Williams his Miranda warning. Williams waived his rights and made further self-incriminating statements.

Before trial, Williams moved to suppress his responses to the interrogations. The state trial court (and subsequently the appeals court) disagreed, and Williams was convicted. Williams filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal District Court, alleging a violation of his Miranda rights, and arguing only that the claims made before the Miranda warnings were given should have been excluded.

The District Court ruled in Williams’ favor and further concluded that the statements made after the Miranda warnings were subject to suppression because they were the products of the earlier statements made before he was read his rights.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the District's court ruling, and summarily rejected the state's argument that the rule in Stone v. Powell, 428 U. S. 465 (1976), which barred federal habeas corpus review of Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure claims when the state had already given defendants a fair chance to raise such claims in state court, should also apply to questions regarding Fifth Amendment claims stemming from a failure to give Miranda warnings in a timely manner.

A petition for certiorari was filed with the US Supreme Court in order to resolve the issue.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Seth P. Waxman, by appointment of the Court, 504 U. S. 983, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Scott L. Nelson and Daniel P. O’Neil. Jeffrey Caminsky argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were John D. O’Hair and Timothy A. Baughman.

C. The Arguments:

Opposing Side
Unavailable Petitioner, supported by the United States as amicus curiae, argues that Miranda’s safeguards are not constitutional in character, but merely “prophylactic,” and that in consequence habeas review should not extend to a claim that a state conviction rests on statements obtained in the absence of those safeguards.  
Opposing Side
Larry W. Yackle, Steven R. Shapiro, Leslie A. Harris, and John A. Powell filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., as amicus curiae urging affirmance. Deputy Solicitor General Roberts argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Mueller, and Ronald J. Mann.

Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of California et al. by Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General of California; George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General; Donald E. De Nicola, Deputy Attorney General; Mark L. Krotoski, Special Assistant Attorney General; James H. Evans, Attorney General of Alabama; Charles E. Cole, Attorney General of Alaska; Grant Woods, Attorney General of Arizona; Winston Bryant, Attorney General of Arkansas; Gale A. Norton, Attorney General of Colorado; Richard N. Palmer, Chief State’s Attorney of Connecticut; Charles M. Oberly III, Attorney General of Delaware; Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General of Florida; Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General of Georgia; Warren Price III, Attorney General of Hawaii; Larry EchoHawk, Attorney General of Idaho; Linley E. Pearson, Attorney General of Indiana; Robert T. Stephan, Attorney General of Kansas; Chris Gorman, Attorney General of Kentucky; Richard P. Ieyoub, Attorney General of Louisiana; Scott Harshbarger, Attorney General of Massachusetts; Michael C. Moore, Attorney General of Mississippi; William L. Webster, Attorney General of Missouri; Marc Racicot, Attorney General of Montana; Don Stenberg, Attorney General of Nebraska; Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General of Nevada; John P. Arnold, Attorney General of New Hampshire; Robert J. Del Tufo, Attorney General of New Jersey; Tom Udall, Attorney General of New Mexico; Lacy H. Thornburg, Attorney General of North Carolina; Lee Fisher, Attorney General of Ohio; T. Travis Medlock, Attorney General of South Carolina; Mark W. Barnett, Attorney General of South Dakota; Charles W. Burson, Attorney General of Tennessee; R. Paul Van Dam, Attorney General of Utah; Jeffrey L. Amestoy, Attorney General of Vermont; Mary Sue Terry, Attorney General of Virginia; Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Attorney General of Washington; Mario J. Palumbo, Attorney General of West Virginia; and Joseph B. Meyer, Attorney General of Wyoming; for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. by Thomas J. Charron, Bernard J. Farber, Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, and James P. Manak; and for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Kent S. Scheidegger. 

Additional briefs of amici curiae were filed for the American Bar Association by Talbot D’Alemberte and William J. Mertens; and for the Police Foundation, et al., by Joseph D. Tydings and Michael Millemann.


“We have made it clear that Stone’s limitation on federal habeas relief was not jurisdictional in nature, but rested on prudential concerns counseling against the application of the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule on collateral review...

[T]he costs of applying the exclusionary rule on habeas were comparatively great. We reasoned that doing so would not only exclude reliable evidence and divert attention from the central question of guilt, but would also intrude upon the public interest…

As we explained in Stone, the Mapp rule 'is not a personal constitutional right,' but serves to deter future constitutional violations; although it mitigates the juridical consequences of invading the defendant’s privacy, the exclusion of evidence at trial can do nothing to remedy the completed and wholly extrajudicial Fourth Amendment violation...

Miranda differs from Mapp in both respects. 'Prophylactic' though it may be, in protecting a defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Miranda safeguards ‘a fundamental trial right...'

Finally, and most importantly, eliminating review of Miranda claims would not significantly benefit the federal courts in their exercise of habeas jurisdiction, or advance the cause of federalism in any substantial way...

We thus fail to see how abdicating Miranda’s bright-line (or, at least, brighter-line) rules in favor of an exhaustive totality - of - circumstances approach on habeas would do much of anything to lighten the burdens placed on busy federal courts… We likewise fail to see how purporting to eliminate Miranda issues from federal habeas would go very far to relieve such tensions as Miranda may now raise between the two judicial systems. Relegation of habeas petitioners to straight involuntariness claims would not likely reduce the amount of litigation, and each such claim would in any event present a legal question requiring an 'independent federal determination' on habeas...

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

  • Souter, D. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O’Connor, S. Con (Wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, joined minority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined O’Connor’s opinion, joined minority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, joined minority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined Scalia’s opinion, joined minority opinion)


The ACLU filed a brief as amicus curiae urging affirmance; the Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.