Thursday, February 25, 2010

Maryland v. Shatzer: Miranda Has An Expiration Date

Maryland v. Shatzer, no. 08-680 (Feb. 24, 2010)

A fairly interesting decision form the Supremes in Washington came out yesterday that's worth some comment-particularly to line officers conducting interrogations of suspects who've previously been Mirandized for some purpose or other. It answers the question "When does a previously given Miranda warning expire?"

The answer's clear-it's 14 days.

In 2003, Shatzer was in prison on a child sex abuse conviction. A social worker was investigating allegations that Shatzer had also sexually abused his three year old son. A detective from the Hagerstown Police Department went to MCI-Hagerstown to interview Shatzer. Shatzer executed a written waiver of his Miranda rights. When the detective explained what he was there for, Shatzer invoked his Miranda rights and declined to answer questions. Shatzer was released into the general inmate population and the investigation went cold.

2-1/2 years later the same social worker referred more specific allegations to the HPD, and Shatzer's son, now eight years old, gave more specific details about the abuse. Shatzer was interviewed again at Roxbury Correctional Institute, and after being Mirandized again, Shatzer admitted details of the sexual abuse of his son. Shatzer consented to a polygraph, failed it, incriminated himself and then invoked his right to counsel.

Charged with sex abuse of his son Shatzer moved to suppress his admissions pursuant to Edwards v. Arizona which held that once a defendant has invoked Miranda, he cannot be questioned thereafter unless he himself initiates further conversation, communication or exchanges with police. Shatzer thus presented an extreme application of the Edwards rule since the time that had elapsed between the first assertion of Miranda and the subsequent admissions was nearly three years.

Edwards has been considered a hard and fast rule, particularly under Arizona v. Roberson and Minnick v. Mississippi. However, one can see the evil inherent in erecting a permanent shield against any subsequent inquiry no matter how remote in time.

Shatzer was convicted on a trial on the minutes, but the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the mere passage of time did not end Edwards protections, and release back into the general population did not constitute a break in custody.

The Supreme Court reversed the Maryland Court of Appeals, holding that a fourteen day break in custody rule was time enough to allow the suspect to get reacclimated to his normal life, to consult with friends and counsel, and to shake off any residual coercive effect. In addition, the Supreme Court held that a release back into the general inmate population constituted a release from custody for Miranda purposes.


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