Miranda Rights

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Miranda Rights

Maryland v. Blake

In November 2005, a few days after oral arguments, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed its previously-granted writ of certiorari as im-providently granted in the case of Maryland v. Blake, 546 U.S.__, 126 S.Ct. 602. The dismissal effectively let stand the underlying (appealed) decision in the matter by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which is the state's highest court.

The case involved the suppression of incriminating statements from a juvenile, Leeander Blake, while in police custody, who had participated in a 2002 murder. The 17-year-old Blake initially told a police detective that he did not want to talk without an attorney, and questioning immediately stopped. Shortly thereafter, Blake was given a printed statement of the charges against him. The charging statement also indicated that a conviction for the charged crimes could result in a death sentence (in fact, as a juvenile, he could not be sentenced to death). One of the officer's then stated, "I bet you want to talk now, huh!" The officer was quickly corrected by the original officer, who said, "No, he doesn't want to talk to us. He already asked for a lawyer. We cannot talk to him."

About a half hour later, the detective returned with some clothes for Blake. At that time, Blake said "I can still talk to you?" The detective asked, "Are you saying you want to talk to me now?" Blake said yes. He was then led into an interrogation room and advised of his Miranda rights for a second time. He waived his right to remain silent and discussed the crimes, incriminating himself; he also agreed to a polygraph exam, during which he made additional incriminating statements. (Blake later testified at an evidentiary hearing that it was the police who re-initiated the conversation, and he denied that he first asked the detective if he could talk to him.)

At trial, Blake's attorney argued that it was the officer who had re-initiated conversation by asking Blake first, "Do you wish to still talk to me?" Counsel then filed a motion to suppress all the incriminating statements on the grounds that the police had violated Miranda v. Arizona, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), and Edwards v. Arizona 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378 (1981).

The trial court agreed and granted defendant's motion. But in an unpublished opinion, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals reversed. Blake then appealed to Maryland's highest court, called the Court of Appeals. The single question on appeal was whether the police actions constituted the functional equivalent of interrogation, following Blake's initial request to be silent until he could see a lawyer, thereby violating his rights against compelled self-incrimination. The Maryland Court of appeals held that the police actions constituted the equivalent of interrogation, thereby violating Blake's rights, and under the circumstances presented, the trial court had properly suppressed Blake's statements. It was this opinion that was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and initially granted certiorari.

The Maryland Court of Appeals explained its conclusion by revisiting the relevant precedent in Miranda and Edwards. The court first reiterated that under Miranda, a suspect taken into custody is entitled to certain procedural safeguards before law enforcement personnel may interrogate. If the suspect requests to speak with an attorney, that person may not be interrogated until either counsel has been made available or the suspect validly waives the earlier request for an attorney. Said the court,

Miranda and Edwards mean exactly what they say: once the accused requests the presence of counsel at a custodial interrogation, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights are ipso facto invoked, and all questioning must cease."

(quoting from Bryant v. State, 49 Md. App. 272 [1981]).

The court next reminded that under Edwards, an accused who has invoked his desire to deal with the police only through counsel cannot be further interrogated until counsel has been made available to him, "unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police." 451 U.S. at 484-485. A valid waiver of that right (once a suspect has requested counsel) cannot be established by merely showing that the accused re-sponded to further police-initiated interrogation. 451 U.S. at 484. Instead, the burden is on the state to show that the accused, after invoking his right to counsel, initiated further discussion with the police. Importantly, if a court finds that a suspect did not initiate further discussions with police, there is no need to consider whether he subsequently waived his right to counsel.

After noting that "Interrogation means more than direct, explicit questioning and includes the functional equivalent of interrogation," the Maryland high court agreed with the conclusion of the circuit (trial) court. The court stated in its opinion,

"Petitioner had requested counsel; he had been given a document that told him he was subject to the death penalty, when legally he was not; he was seventeen years of age; he had not consulted with counsel; he was in a cold holding cell with little clothing; an officer had suggested in a confrontational tone that petitioner might want to talk; and the misstatement as to the potential penalty as one of "DEATH" had never been corrected. There was no break in custody or adequate lapse in time sufficient to vitiate the coercive effect of the impermissive interrogation…. We hold that all statements made by petitioner after he invoked his Miranda rights are inadmissible and the motion to suppress the statements was properly granted."

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