Supreme Court rules two-year break in interrogation satisfies Edwards requirement

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 9-0 in Maryland v. Shatzer [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Edwards v. Arizona [opinion text] prohibition against interrogation of a suspect who has invoked the Fifth Amendment right to counsel does not require suppression of statements if, after the suspect asks for counsel, there is a break of more than two years before resuming interrogation. The Court of Appeals of Maryland had ruled [opinion, PDF] that there was no break in custody and that the Edwards prohibition against interrogation still applied. Delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Antonin Scalia explained:


It is easy to believe that a suspect may be coerced or badgered into abandoning his earlier refusal to be questioned without counsel in the paradigm Edwards case...in which the suspect has been arrested for a particular crime and is held in uninterrupted pretrial custody while that crime is being actively investigated. After the initial interrogation, and up to and including the second one, he remains cut off from his normal life and companions...[If] a suspect has been released from his pretrial custody and has returned to his normal life for some time before the later attempted interrogation, there is little reason to think that his change of heart regarding interrogation without counsel has been coerced....In these circumstances, it is far fetched to think that a police officer’s asking the suspect whether he would like to waive his Miranda rights will any more "wear down the accused," than did the first such request at the original attempted interrogation — which is of course not deemed coercive. [citations omitted]

Justice Clarence Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, while Justice John Paul Stevens filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

In 1966, the court held in Miranda that an individual must be "clearly informed," prior to custodial questioning, that he has, among other rights, "the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation." Michael Shatzer was an inmate at a correctional institution when he was first questioned regarding allegations that he had sexually abused his son. He invoked his right to counsel under Miranda and was returned to the general prison population. No further questioning was conducted until another officer interrogated Shatzer more than two years later, at which time he waived his rights and made incriminating statements. Shatzer was still incarcerated during the second questioning, but the Court held that being lawfully imprisoned was not sufficient to create the coercive atmosphere of custodial interrogation, since he had been allowed to return to his "normal life" in the general prison population.

 

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