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Tackling Edwards v. Arizona One More Time

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As our News Scan earlier reported, the U.S. Supreme Court decided today to take up the Edwards issue one more time in Maryland v. Shatzer.  Hopefully this time it will answer the question of how long a suspect's invocation of the Fifth Amendment right to counsel prevents police from asking for a Miranda waiver. A related question was on the docket in Maryland v. Blake in 2005, which was to address whether a suspect who had previously invoked his right to counsel had re-initiated police interrogation 30 minutes later.  The Court never answered the question and "dismissed as improvidently granted."

Today's grant gives the Court a chance to address a procedural hurdle that has divided lower courts for years - how long does Edward's protection from police interrogation last?  How long can the prohibition on police-initiated contact reasonably endure?  Maryland's high court found the protection to last indefinitely, so long as the suspect remains in continuous custody, and the post-invocation interrogation regards the same underlying crime as the first interrogation.

The interrogations at issue in Maryland v. Shatzer began in August 2003.  Detective Blakenship went to interview Shatzer as part of his investigation into allegations that Shatzer had sexually abused his three year old son.  Shatzer was already in jail for an unrelated sexual abuse offense of a different child.  At first, Shatzer waived his Miranda rights, but once Blakenship explained what he wanted to discuss, Shatzer invoked his Fifth Amendment right an attorney.  Questioning ceased and the investigation was closed.  In February 2006, the investigation was renewed because Shatzer's son was able to make more specific allegations.  A new detective, Detective Hoover, went to the prison to interview Shatzer a second time.  During the second interview, Shatzer was informed that police had begun a new investigation into the previous abuse charges.  While Shatzer was surprised at the new investigation he did not request his attorney, and he signed a Miranda waiver.  Shatzer then agreed to and failed a polygraph test, and then admitted "I didn't force him. I didn't force him."  Shatzer was convicted and sentenced to 15 years with five years suspended.  He appealed, but the Maryland Court of Appeals granted certiorari to specifically address the Edwards issue. 

Maryland takes a fairly expansive view of Edwards' Fifth Amendment protections, finding admissions from a post-invocation interrogation - occurring two years and seven months after the first interrogation - to be inadmissible.  For Maryland's Court of Appeals, the fact that the suspect had been incarcerated, and in custody for an unrelated crime, was sufficient to hold that the two year lapse between the first interrogation and the second was insufficient protection from the police coercion Miranda and Edwards were designed to prohibit.    

The Maryland Court of Appeals based its decision on two points.  First, the Maryland court found a presumption of coercion because Arizona v. Roberson had "[a]s a matter of law, the presumption raised by a suspect's request for counsel - that he considers himself unable to deal with the pressures of custodial interrogation without legal assistance  - does not disappear simply because the police have approached the suspect, still in custody, still without counsel, about a separate investigation."   This meant that if the court was to find Shatzer was still in custody, any un-counseled interrogation concerning the sexual abuse was obtained in violation of Shatzer's Fifth Amendment rights.  Second, the court went on to find that Shatzer had remained in custody, and that the two year lapse of time was insufficient to cure any Fifth Amendment violation.

This question of whether lapse of time can cure any coercive effect has been debated by courts for several years.  The closest the Supreme Court ever got to addressing the issue was in 1992, when it granted certiorari and heard arguments in United States v. Green.  The Court granted cert. in that case after the D.C. Court of Appeals opined "only the Supreme Court can explain whether the Edwards rule is time-tethered..."  The Court never got its chance though, because Green died almost four months after oral argument.  The case was vacated, and hopefully the issue will finally be addressed by the Court's decision in Shatzer.  In deciding Shatzer, the Court will finally be able to address whether the Fifth Amendment was intended to suppress self-incriminating statements made after a valid waiver "particularly where, as here, the second interrogation regards the same underlying crime as the first interrogation" if the suspect remained "in custody" only because he was incarcerated for a completely separate crime.

3 Comments

Doesn't the Court have some leeway here because the rule at issue is a prophylactic one? It seems that the Court could easily conclude that the shock of custody wears off after a while and that the presumption should go away.

Although Texas v. Cobb is a 6A case, I wonder if it may have relevance here, given that the defendant was imprisoned on a completely different charge in this case.

Given the fact that Miranda is a prophylactic rule, Maryland should have given itself more wiggle room. The suppression court did when it found that a 2+ year lapse in time broke the “custody” requirement and allowed Shatzer’s statements at trial. The court’s holding feels like the “prophylaxis built upon prophylaxis” Justice Scalia wrote against in his Minnick v. Mississippi dissent. “This newest tower, according to the Court, is needed to avoid “inconsisten[cy] with [the] purpose” of Edwards’ prophylactic rule, [citation omitted], which was needed to protect Miranda’s prophylactic right to have counsel present, which was needed to protect the right against compelled self-incrimination found (at last!) in the Constitution.”

And Cobb might certainly be applicable to this case. Its reasoning - that the Sixth Amendment does not always extend to closely related offenses - would certainly help take a chunk out of the Edwards rule.

Scalia does have a way with words.

There is some justification for the Edwards rule, Scalia's barb notwithstanding. There's not a lot of justification for its extension two years after the fact. It's one thing to posit that a person in custody should have a means of "crying uncle" to get interrogations to stop when custody is new and necessarily jarring. It's quite another to hold that some stale invocation of the "crying uncle" right prevents law enforcement from talking to a criminal suspect who has been incarcerated for a number of years. (Certainly, the vast majority of prisoners after spending years in the pokey are no longer in such fragile states.) Such an extension, from a policy perspective, would be awful. How many older cases are solved simply by interviewing incarcerated suspects?

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