The Untold Story of Rhode Island v. Innis: Justice Potter Stewart and the Development of Modern Self-Incrimination Doctrine

Note — Volume 97, Issue 2

97 Va. L. Rev. 431
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Self-incrimination doctrine took a surprising turn in Rhode Island v. Innis (1980). Interpreting the meaning of “interrogation” under Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court ruled expansively: interrogation included words or actions that police should know are likely to elicit an incriminating response from a suspect. Thus, after years of relentless attack, the Burger Court obviated the possibility of overruling Miranda.

Literature is sparse on Innis, though existing analyses suggest that a circuit split on the meaning of “interrogation” and a need to resolve issues left outstanding by Brewer v. Williams (1977), a previous Sixth Amendment right to counsel case that also implicated the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, created sufficient pressure to force the Court’s hand. These explanations, however, are deficient: they fail to account for the fact that there were narrower definitions of interrogation that the Innis Court could have chosen and that there existed plausible grounds other than Miranda upon which the Court could have ruled.

This Note argues that two previously unacknowledged factors explain Innis: (1) Justice Potter Stewart—whose legacy in Sixth Amendment jurisprudence gained considerably from an expansive Fifth Amendment ruling; and (2) stare decisis—which garnered Miranda begrudging respect from Court conservatives. By reassessing law literature contemporaneous to Innis, and drawing on Supreme Court cases, briefs, and oral arguments, and previously unavailable primary source material from Justice Stewart’s Supreme Court files, this Note argues convincingly that Innis’s result was predictable and that its impact on self-incrimination jurisprudence was more significant than previously acknowledged.

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  Volume 97 / Issue 2  

Prosecuting Federal Crimes in State Courts

By Michael G. Collins and Jonathan Remy Nash
97 Va. L. Rev. 243

Conscience, Speech, and Money

By Micah Schwartzman
97 Va. L. Rev. 317

Toward Recognition of a Monetary Threshold in Campaign Finance Disclosure Law

By E. Rebecca Gantt
97 Va. L. Rev. 385

The Untold Story of Rhode Island v. Innis: Justice Potter Stewart and the Development of Modern Self-Incrimination Doctrine

By Jesse Stewart
97 Va. L. Rev. 431