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Escobedo v. Illinois
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 29, 1964
Decided June 22, 1964
Full case name Escobedo v. Illinois
Citations 378 U.S. 478 (more)
84 S. Ct. 1758; 12 L. Ed. 2d 977; 1964 U.S. LEXIS 827; 4 Ohio Misc. 197; 32 Ohio Op. 2d 31
Prior history Defendant convicted in Cook County criminal court; Illinois Supreme Court found confession inadmissible and reversed, February 1, 1963; on petition for rehearing, Illinois Supreme Court affirmed conviction, 28 Ill. 2d 41; cert. granted, 375 U.S. 902
Suspects have the right to a lawyer while being questioned by police. If police refuse to allow a lawyer, anything the suspect says cannot be used in court.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Goldberg, joined by Warren, Black, Douglas, Brennan
Dissent Harlan
Dissent Stewart
Dissent White, joined by Stewart, Clark
Laws applied
Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments

Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case decided in 1964. The Court ruled that suspects in crimes have the right to have a lawyer with them while they are being questioned by the police. This case was decided just a year after the Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), that indigent (poor) criminal defendants had a right to be assigned free lawyers at trial.



Escobedo asked to speak to his lawyer, but the police refused. They said that although he was not formally charged with a crime yet, he was in police custody and could not leave. Escobedo's lawyer went to the police station and asked many times to see Escobedo, but was not allowed to.

Police and prosecutors interrogated Escobedo for fifteen hours. They made Escobedo stand, handcuffed, for the entire time. Escobedo continued to ask to speak with his lawyer, and they continued to refuse. Escobedo later said that the police promised him he could go free, and would not be charged with murder, if he just confessed to the crime. Finally, after "becoming more emotional," Escobedo said something about being connected with the crime. The police took this as an indirect confession.


At his murder trial, the prosecution used Escobedo's 'confession' as its most important evidence against him. A jury convicted Escobedo of murder and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.


Escobedo appealed his conviction to the Illinois Supreme Court. His trial lawyer refused to help him, so Escobedo wrote the appeal himself. However, after the Supreme Court got his appeal, he did receive a volunteer lawyer named Barry Kroll. Together, they argued that Escobedo's right to a lawyer had been violated and that his confession had been coerced (made because of pressure, lies, and threats).

At first, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed, and decided to give Escobedo a whole new trial. But later, it reversed its decision. The members of the court had changed their minds and decided Escobedo was guilty after all. They refused to reverse or change the original trial court's sentence.

Finally, Kroll and Escobedo appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Court agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court

Legal questions

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to ... the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

The Court had already decided that people had the right to a lawyer during trials. However, the Court had always thought that the Sixth Amendment's right to a lawyer applied to people only after they were "accused," once they were already "in... criminal prosecutions," as the Amendment itself says.

Now the Court had to decide:

  • Did people have the right to a lawyer during police interrogations?
  • If the police refuse to let a suspect have a lawyer during an interrogation, are they violating the Sixth Amendment?
  • If so, would that make anything the suspect said inadmissible? (Inadmissible evidence is evidence which cannot be used in court to prove a person's guilt.)


For Escobedo

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped Kroll argue before the Court. They argued that the police violated not only Escobedo's Sixth Amendment rights, but also his Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Fourteenth Amendment says that no state can take away any person's "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person ... the equal protection of the laws." Escobedo's team argued that the police took away his freedom without due process or equal protection of the laws by:

  • Not letting him have a lawyer
    • This denied him the protection of the Sixth Amendment's right to a lawyer
    • This also denied him his right to due process and a fair trial
  • Not telling him about his rights, like his right not to say anything to the police
    • This denied him the protection of those rights

Against Escobedo

Lawyers for Illinois argued that the police officers did the right thing when they refused to let Escobedo have a lawyer. According to the law and past Supreme Court cases, the right to a lawyer was not guaranteed until a person had actually been charged with a crime.

Illinois also argued that if the Court ruled in favor of Escobedo, the results for law enforcement could be terrible. If lawyers had to be at every interrogation, it would be almost impossible to get confessions.


The Escobedo case divided the Supreme Court. By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled in favor of Escobedo. They threw out his conviction, and he went free.

The Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment does apply to police interrogations. In other words, people have the right to a lawyer when they are being questioned by the police.

Specifically, the Court ruled that the right to a lawyer begins before a person is charged with a crime. It begins when the police start treating a person like a suspect.

Justice Arthur J. Goldberg wrote the Court's majority opinion. He rejected the state of Illinois' argument that having lawyers around would be terrible for law enforcement. He wrote:

[N]o system of criminal justice can, or should, survive if it [depends] on the citizens' ... unawareness of their constitutional rights. No system worth preserving should have to fear that if an accused is [allowed] to [talk] with a lawyer, he will become aware of, and [use], these rights. If the exercise of constitutional rights will [hurt] the effectiveness of a system of law enforcement, then there is something very wrong with that system.


The Escobedo decision affected every police department, prosecutor, and court in the country:

  • Police departments had to change their rules and their ways of getting confessions. Now they have to make sure that if a suspect asks for a lawyer, he gets one
  • Before using confessions in court, prosecutors now have to make sure that the suspect had a lawyer with him when he gave the confession
  • Courts now had different rules about how to decide whether a confession is admissible (whether it can be used as evidence in court). If police refuse to let a suspect talk to a lawyer, anything the suspect says after that is inadmissible. It cannot be used as evidence that the suspect is guilty.

Escobedo also added extra protections for suspects. It allows them to use their Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer as soon as they become a suspect, not just after they are charged with a crime.

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