Police Power Expanded As Miranda Warnings Are Scaled Back

Recently in Maryland v. Shatzer, the United States Supreme Court held that invoking the Miranda right to counsel does not bar all further questioning. The police may question the suspect again, and without counsel present, as long as they wait until 14 days after the suspect has been released from police questioning.

The Miranda Case

“You have the right to an attorney.” These words signify more than the final scenes of popular television police shows; they are part of a carefully prescribed measure to protect the constitutional rights of suspects.

In 1966, in Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court acknowledged the “inherently compelling pressures” suspects face when interrogated while in police custody. In order that the coercive pressure not overwhelm the suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights, the Court established the rule that police officers must notify suspects of their right to remain silent and to have an attorney present.

The suspect may then:

  • Invoke the right to remain silent, in which case the interrogation must end
  • Invoke the right to an attorney, in which case the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present
  • Waive both rights; provided that the waiver is knowing, intelligent and voluntary, and questioning may continue

The Edwards Case

In 1981, the Court added another layer of protection for suspects, addressing attempts at subsequent interrogation. In Edwards v. Arizona, the Supreme Court stated that once a suspect has invoked the right to counsel, that suspect “is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.”

The court reasoned that if the authorities are allowed to make subsequent inquiry, any waiver obtained would be the product of the “inherently compelling pressures” and therefore not voluntary.

The Shatzer Case

In February 2010, the Supreme Court revisited the issue of requestioning in Maryland v. Shatzer. In 2003, police were investigating Michael Shatzer, who was in prison for a prior conviction. When a police detective tried to question Shatzer, he invoked his right to an attorney. The interview was stopped and Shatzer returned to prison.

In 2006, another detective reopened the case. He read Shatzer his Miranda rights again and this time Shatzer waived his rights and incriminated himself. Shatzer then claimed the statements could not be used at trial because he should not have been requestioned without an attorney present after he invoked his right to counsel in 2003. The state countered that requestioning was not prohibited because there was a break in custody for Miranda purposes.

Requestioning After Break in Custody

The Supreme Court explained the danger the Edwards decision was intended to avoid was suspects’ losing a sense of control when held in continuous custody and repeatedly questioned despite a request for counsel. Therefore, the Court saw little risk that a subsequent waiver would be coerced when the suspect was first released from pretrial custody and given time to return to normal life.

Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, expressed distaste for deterring voluntary confessions, an “unmitigated good.” The Court concluded that Miranda protections are sufficient even when the suspect has requested an attorney and is later reinterrogated without an attorney present, so long as there is a break in custody long enough to dissipate the coercive effects of being in custody.

Length of Break in Custody

Rather than deciding only the question before it – whether two and a half years was a sufficient break in custody – the Court took an unusual step in setting a precise length of time required for a break. The Court stated that 14 days provides plenty of time to reacclimatize to normal life, consult with family and counsel, and eliminate the coercive effects of being held in custody.

What Constitutes a Break in Custody?

Additionally, the Court addressed whether Shatzer’s return to prison amounted to custody for Miranda purposes. The Court answered that lawful imprisonment resulting from conviction does not present the coercive pressures of Miranda custody.

When imprisoned suspects are released from questioning, they return to their accustomed environment and routines, with the same amount of control over their lives that they had prior to interrogation. Continued detention is not dependent upon the questioning, so the Court found the compelling pressures of custody end with release back to the general prison population.

The Effects of Shatzer

Even if a suspect requests counsel, the police may make subsequent attempts at questioning without a lawyer present as long as they wait 14 days between attempts. The Court left open how long these 14-day-spaced attempts could be ongoing.

An experienced attorney can protect suspects’ rights throughout the investigation up to trial by advising suspects of their right to counsel during any police questioning.