Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021
Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (Feb. 24, 2010)

The Court held that a 2½ year break in custody ended the presumption of involuntariness established in Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981) (when a defendant invokes the right to have counsel present during a custodial interrogation, a valid waiver of that right cannot be established by showing that the defendant responded to further police-initiated custodial interrogation even if the defendant has been advised of his Miranda rights; the defendant is not subject to further interrogation until counsel has been provided or the defendant initiates further communications with the police). The defendant was initially interrogated about a sexual assault while in prison serving time for an unrelated crime. After Miranda rights were given, he declined to be interviewed without counsel, the interview ended, and the defendant was released back into the prison’s general population. 2½ years later another officer interviewed the defendant in prison about the same sexual assault. After the officer read the defendant his Miranda rights, the defendant waived those rights in writing and made incriminating statements. At trial, the defendant unsuccessfully tried to suppress his statements pursuant to Edwards. The Court concluded: “The protections offered by Miranda, which we have deemed sufficient to ensure that the police respect the suspect’s desire to have an attorney present the first time police interrogate him, adequately ensure that result when a suspect who initially requested counsel is reinterrogated after a break in custody that is of sufficient duration to dissipate its coercive effects.” The Court went on to set a 14-day break in custody as the bright line rule for when the Edwards protection terminates. It also concluded that the defendant’s release back into the general prison population to continue serving a sentence for an unrelated conviction constituted a break in Miranda custody.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress incriminating statements made to police during a custodial interview. The defendant asserted that the statements were made after he invoked his right to counsel. Before the custodial interview, the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights, initialed and signed the Miranda rights form, waived his Miranda rights, and spoke with law enforcement. The defendant asked at one point “Can I consult with a lawyer, I mean, or anything?” Finding that the trial court did not err by concluding that this question was not an unambiguous assertion of the right to counsel, the court noted:

Merely one-tenth of a second elapsed between the time that defendant asked, “[c]an I consult with a lawyer, I mean, or anything?” and then stated, “I mean I – I – I did it. I’m not laughing man, I want to cry because its f[*]cked up to be put on the spot like this.” The officers then immediately reminded defendant of his Miranda rights, that they had just read him those rights, that defendant “ha[d] the right to have [his attorney] here,” and that the officers “[could] never make that choice for [him] one way or another.” After police attempted to clarify whether defendant’s question was an affirmative assertion of his Miranda rights, defendant declined to unambiguously assert that right, continued communications, and never again asked about counsel for the rest of the interview.

The court concluded that although the defendant explicitly asked if he could consult with a lawyer, considering the totality of the circumstances his statement was ambiguous or equivocal, such that the officers were not required to cease questioning. He did not pause between the time he asked for counsel and gave his initial confession, the officers immediately reminded him of his Miranda rights to clarify if he was indeed asserting his right to counsel, and the defendant declined the offered opportunity to unambiguously assert that right but instead continued communicating with the officers. The court went on to hold that even if his question could be objectively construed as an unambiguous invocation of his Miranda rights it was immediately waived when he initiated further communication.

The court rejected the State’s argument that the defendant initiated contact with the police following his initial request for counsel and thus waived his right to counsel. After the defendant asserted his right to counsel, the police returned him to the interrogation room and again asked if he wanted counsel, to which he said yes. Then, on the way from the interrogation room back to the jail, a detective told the defendant that an attorney would not able to help him and that he would be served with warrants regardless of whether an attorney was there. The police knew or should have known that telling the defendant that an attorney could not help him with the warrants would be reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. It was only after this statement by police that the defendant agreed to talk. Therefore, the court concluded, the defendant did not initiate the communication. The court went on to conclude that even if the defendant had initiated communication with police, his waiver was not knowing and intelligent. The trial court had found that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of showing that the defendant made a knowing and intelligent waiver, relying on the facts that the defendant was 18 years old and had limited experience with the criminal justice system, there was a period of time between 12:39 p.m. and 12:54 p.m. where there is no evidence as to what occurred, and there was no audio or video recording. The court found that the defendant’s age and inexperience, when combined with the circumstances of his interrogation, support the trial court’s conclusion that the State failed to prove the defendant’s waiver was knowing and intelligent.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his confession was improperly obtained after he invoked his right to counsel. Although the defendant invoked his right to counsel before making the statements at issue, because he re-initiated the conversation with police, his right to counsel was not violated when detectives took his later statements. 

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress where, although the defendant initially invoked his Miranda right to counsel during a custodial interrogation, he later reinitiated conversation with the officer. The defendant was not under the influence of impairing substances, no promises or threats were made to him, and the defendant was again fully advised of and waived his Miranda rights before he made the statement at issue.

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