Nix v. Williams

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nix v. Williams
Argued January 18, 1984
Decided June 11, 1984
Full case nameNix, Warden of the Iowa State Penitentiary v. Williams
Docket no.82-1651
Citations467 U.S. 431 (more)
104 S. Ct. 2501; 81 L. Ed. 2d 377
Case history
PriorWrit of habeas corpus denied, Williams v. Nix, 528 F. Supp. 664 (S.D. Iowa 1981); reversed, 700 F.2d 1164 (8th Cir. 1983); cert. granted, 461 U.S. 956 (1983).
The evidence pertaining to the discovery and condition of the victim's body was properly admitted at respondent's second trial on the ground that it would ultimately or inevitably have been discovered even if no violation of any constitutional provision had taken place.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityBurger, joined by White, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor
ConcurrenceStevens (in the judgment)
DissentBrennan, joined by Marshall
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984), was a U.S. Supreme Court case that created an "inevitable discovery" exception to the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule makes most evidence gathered through violations of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, inadmissible in criminal trials as "fruit of the poisonous tree". In Nix, the Court ruled that evidence that would inevitably have been discovered by law enforcement through legal means remained admissible.[1]


Robert Williams, an escaped mental patient, murdered ten-year-old Pamela Powers after kidnapping her from a YMCA in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 24, 1968.[2] He surrendered to police two days later in another county on the condition that he not be interrogated while being transported back to Urbandale. One of the detectives began a conversation and proposed that Williams reveal where he had left the body before an impending snowfall; Williams agreed and led the detectives to Powers' body.[3]

Williams was subsequently convicted of the murder, but in Brewer v. Williams (1977),[4] the US Supreme Court ruled that his right to counsel had been violated based on the precedent of Massiah v. United States (1964).[5] Williams' conviction was thereby reversed.[6] Justice Potter Stewart's majority opinion, however, contained a footnote suggesting that the evidence provided by Williams could still be used in a trial:

While neither Williams’ incriminating statements themselves nor any testimony describing his having led the police to the victim’s body can constitutionally be admitted into evidence, evidence of where the body was found and of its condition might well be admissible on the theory that the body would have been discovered in any event, even had incriminating statements not been elicited from Williams. ... In the event that a retrial is instituted, it will be for the state courts in the first instance to determine whether particular items of evidence may be admitted.[5]

Williams then received a second trial, in which his attorneys again moved to suppress all evidence stemming from the interrogation of Williams by the detectives. The judge ruled that Williams' statements to the detectives were inadmissible, but citing Stewart's footnote, ruled that the body was admissible as evidence, as it would have inevitably been discovered by law enforcement. On July 15, 1977, Williams was again convicted of first degree murder.[5]

Decision of the Court[edit]

The appeal of the second trial reached the Supreme Court in 1984. The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was joined by Justices Byron White, Harry Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William Rehnquist, and Sandra Day O'Connor. Justices White and Stevens wrote concurring opinions, while Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. wrote a dissent in which he was joined by Thurgood Marshall.[7]

The majority opinion found that an "inevitable discovery exception" to the exclusionary rule was constitutional, noting that such a rule was already standard practice in most state and federal courts. The Court stated that law enforcement was not required to demonstrate that it had violated a defendant's rights in good faith, only that the evidence would have inevitably been found despite the violation. Williams' conviction was thereby upheld.[5]

Brennan's dissent agreed that an inevitable discovery exception existed, but argued that the burden of proof should be strengthened from the "preponderance of the evidence" required by the majority opinion to "clear and convincing evidence".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Levy, Leonard W. (1986). "Nix v. Williams 467 U.S. 431 (1984)". Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  2. ^ McGinnis, Thomas N. (2001). The Christian Burial Case: An Introduction to Criminal and Judicial Procedure. Greenwood. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780275970277. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  3. ^ Alschuler, Albert (July 1, 2008). "The exclusionary rule and causation: Hudson v. Michigan and its ancestors". Iowa Law Review.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on March 8, 2016. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  4. ^ Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977).
  5. ^ a b c d e McInnis, Tom N. (2006). "Nix v. Williams and the Inevitable Discovery Exception" (PDF). St. Louis University Public Law Review. 28: 397–446. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 3, 2013. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  6. ^ Levy, Leonard W. (1986). "Brewer v. Williams 430 U.S. 378 (1977)". Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  7. ^ Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431 (1984).

External links[edit]