Appealed from: Court of Appeals of Maryland
Oral argument: November 1, 2005
When the Annapolis Police arrested Leeander Blake, he invoked his right to remain silent until granted access to an attorney. While Blake was still in custody, and after Blake had invoked his right to remain silent, an officer made an inappropriate remark to him. However, the officer leading the investigation swiftly rebuked this officer, in front of Blake, for his remark. Shortly thereafter, Blake made incriminating statements without an attorney that the State sought to use against him. Under Edwards v. Arizona, a suspect who has invoked his right to remain silent cannot later waive that right unless he initiates the conversation and does so knowingly and intelligently. The Court must decide whether the supervising officer's curative remarks in this case sufficiently restored Blake's rights prior to Blake's incriminating statements.
When a police officer improperly communicates with a suspect after invocation of the suspect's right to counsel, does Edwards permit consideration of curative measures by the police, or other intervening circumstances, to conclude that a suspect later initiated communication with the police?
If one police officer violates a suspect's Fifth Amendment right to remain silent by making an inappropriate remark after the suspect has invoked that right, can the words and acts of another officer, and other circumstances, such as the passage of time, sufficiently repair the situation in order to allow the suspect to later waive his right to remain silent?
On October 19, 2002 in Annapolis, Maryland, unknown assailants shot Straughan Lee Griffin in the head and stole his car; the assailants ran over his body as they fled. Blake v. Maryland, 381 Md. 218, 222 (2004). A week later, the police arrested Terrence Tolbert ("Tolbert") in connection with Griffin's murder. Id. at 223. Tolbert pointed the police to Leeander Jerome Blake ("Blake"), and the police arrested Blake at his home around 5 a.m. the following morning. Id. Barefoot and wearing boxer shorts and a tank top, Blake was handcuffed and taken by uniformed officers to the Annapolis, Maryland Police Department. Id. He was seventeen years old. Id. at 227.
At the police station, Detective William Johns booked Blake and advised him of his Miranda rights. Blake, 381 Md. at 227. Blake chose not to speak with the police without an attorney present; he signed a form indicating that he had been told his rights, and was taken to a holding cell. Id. Approximately thirty minutes later, in keeping with Maryland state law, Detective Johns and Officer Curtis Reese brought Blake a statement of the charges against him that listed each charge and the penalty associated with it. Id.; see also Md. Rule 4-212(e). The statement also stated that Tolbert had blamed the murder on Blake. Brief for Petitioner at 27. Detective Johns explained that the charges were serious and that Blake should be certain he understood them. Blake, 381 Md. at 227. On the written statement, the penalty for the charge of first-degree murder was stated in all capital letters-"DEATH." Id. This was an error because Blake, as a juvenile, was not eligible for the death penalty. Brief for Respondent at 3.
As the two officers left Blake's cell, Officer Reese said to Blake (in a tone that Detective Johns described as "loud and confrontational") "I bet you want to talk now, huh!" Blake, 381 Md. at 224. Detective Johns was surprised by Officer Reese's statement and quickly made a point of saying loudly, and within Blake's hearing, that Blake had asked for a lawyer and could not be questioned. Id. When Detective Johns returned approximately one and one-half hours later to bring Blake some clothing, Blake asked if he could still talk to him. Id. Detective Johns then asked if Blake wanted to speak with him and, when Blake answered yes, Detective Johns left. Id. When he returned, Detective Johns told Blake he would need to read Blake his rights again. Id. Detective Johns took Blake back to the booking room and read his Miranda rights again. Blake waived his rights and agreed to provide a statement. Id.
After Blake's first statement, in which he made incriminating remarks regarding his role in Griffin's murder, he agreed to take a polygraph test. Blake, 381 Md. at 225. Detective Johns drove Blake to the Maryland State Police Barracks where a state trooper told Blake his rights once again. Id. Blake then took the polygraph test and made additional statements. Id.
Before his trial began, Blake filed a motion to suppress all of his incriminating statements gathered by the prosecution. Blake, 381 Md. at 222. In the resulting evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that Officer Reese's statement violated Blake's Miranda rights and therefore granted Blake's motion. Id. at 229. The appellate court reversed the trial court's decision, however, the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, reversed again, finding that the police had violated Blake's right to an attorney.
Anyone who has watched TV shows like "Cops" or "Law & Order" will be familiar with the "Miranda rights" of a person put under arrest-individuals are constitutionally protected against police interrogation, and can therefore remain silent until they can speak with an attorney. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 479 (1966). In Edwards v. Arizona, the Supreme Court elaborated on that right when it found that a person who has requested an attorney cannot later be questioned by the police unless that person has, first, "knowingly and intelligently" waived his right to counsel, and, second, initiated the conversation. 451 U.S. 477, 483-84 (1981). In the present case, the Supreme Court will determine if a suspect can knowingly and intelligently waive his rights after the police have made improper comments to him. In other words, the Court will decide if the police can undo the damage done in such a way that allows a suspect who first chose to remain silent to change his mind, waive his rights, and speak.
Most fans of police shows are also familiar with "good cop, bad cop" interrogations. A central concern in this case that applies to all criminal suspects is that allowing one officer to "cure" an improper statement made by another would open the door for choreographed coercion intended to establish a false sense of trust and to procure a waiver of a suspect's Miranda rights. Albeit cynical, it is all-too-easy to imagine Detective Johns manipulating Blake's fear after Blake read that he was eligible for the death penalty and heard Officer Reese's statement. Out of this concern, Blake argues that where, as here, his comment was found by the trial court to be a response to Officer Reese's comment, he could not have initiated the conversation in which he waived his rights, and, therefore, the question of Detective Johns' curative steps is irrelevant. Brief for Respondent at 10.
However, the State has an equally legitimate interest in providing the police with sufficient authority to effectively investigate crimes. What if, as the State contends, Blake was not responding to Officer Reese's comment, but was motivated by a desire to refute the statements Tolbert had made against him? See Brief for Petitioner at 27. Were that the case, the Maryland court would have suppressed a valuable and admissible statement made by a suspect who had knowingly and intelligently waived his rights regardless of Officer Reese's immaterial error.
In Miranda, the Supreme Court recognized that custodial police interrogations are inherently coercive and, therefore, that procedural safeguards are necessary to protect a suspect's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Brief for Respondent at 11; see also Miranda, 384 U.S. at 479. In Edwards, the Court applied this protection to cases where a suspect who has first invoked his right to counsel, subsequently waives it. See Edwards, 451 U.S. at 484-85. The Court has gone on to treat Edwards as the source of a "bright line" standard providing "clear and unequivocal" guidance on the issue. Brief for Respondent at 12 (quoting Minnick v. Mississippi, 498 U.S. 146, 154 (1990)). Edwards now stands for a two prong standard: first a suspect does not waive his previously-invoked right simply by responding to police-initiated interrogation-he must initiate the conversation himself. Edwards, 451 U.S. at 484-85. Second, the suspect must "knowingly and intelligently waive the right he had previously invoked. Smith v. Illinois, 469 U.S. 91, 95 (1984).
How the two prongs of the Edwards test are to be applied strikes at the heart of this controversy. The State argues that the Edwards test was established to prevent "police badgering," and that the Court should consider the "entire course of conduct" by the police after a suspect invokes his rights. Brief for Petitioner at 10. If the suspect is found to have re-initiated conversation, then the Court must consider the totality of the circumstances to determine if he waived his rights knowingly and intelligently. Id. Not surprisingly, Blake argues for a more strict interpretation of whether or not the suspect re-initiated the conversation: "If the accused did not re-initiate dialogue, all post-invocation statements are inadmissible regardless of whether such statements were the product of actual coercion." Brief for Respondent at 13 (emphasis added). If the suspect did not re-initiate, then the Court should consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether waiver was made knowingly and intelligently or under coercion. Id.
As its name suggests, the "totality of the circumstances" encompasses a range of elements that the Supreme Court may take into account, including: Blake's age, the incorrect assertion that he was eligible for the death penalty and the fact that this assertion was not corrected, Blake's physical condition, the condition of the holding cell, Officer Reese's remark and Detective Johns' reaction to it, Blake's likely reaction to Officer Reese's remark, the twenty-eight minutes that lapsed between Officer Reese's remark and Blake's question of "Can I still talk to you?" and Detective Johns' response. It seems that if Detective Johns' words and actions in response to Officer Reese's comment are deemed sufficiently curative, then the Court will find that Blake knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel.?
The State argues that, because the Court should consider the entire course of dealings between the police and the suspect, Officer Reese's remark, though regrettable, is not enough to render Blake's later statements inadmissible. Brief for Petitioner at 18. In this case, where Detective Johns quickly silenced Officer Reese and physically removed him from Blake's cell, the Court may find that Detective Johns "effectively corrected" Reese's remark by stating within Blake's hearing that Blake had asked for a lawyer and could not speak with the officers. Id. at 26-27. Moreover, the State argues that the way Blake phrased the question-"Can I still talk to you?"-suggests he did not know if he would be allowed to speak and he could not, therefore, be responding to Reese's comment. Id. at 27. The State also places great emphasis on Blake's testimony during the evidentiary hearing-that Blake was angered by Tolbert's statement in the print-out, which blamed Blake for the murder, and that Blake wanted to tell the police the truth. Id. Finally, the State points to Detective Johns' repeated and thorough efforts to confirm Blake's awareness of his rights after Blake asked his first question. Id. at 27-28. Thus, the State argues, Detective Johns' curative statements sufficed to reaffirm Blake's Miranda rights before Blake's statements, and allowed for Blake to knowingly and intelligently waive his rights.
Regarding Blake's state of mind, the State will argue that, while Blake was understandably scared by the incorrect statement that he faced the death penalty, his fear also reflects his knowledge of his own role in the crime. By extension, given Blake's awareness of the serious charges against him, it was very reasonable for him to come to the decision on his own to speak with police officers. The fact that Detective Johns reasserted Blake's Miranda rights on more than one occasion reinforces the argument that Blake had full knowledge of his rights when he decided to waive his right to counsel.
On the other hand, Blake first argues that, as a matter of procedure, the Maryland state court determined as an issue of fact that Blake did not initiate the conversation with the police. Brief for Respondent at 15-16. Thus, again as a matter of procedure, unless the trial court's factual determination was "clearly erroneous," it must be upheld. Id. at 16. Paired with the fact that the State has conceded that Officer Reese's remark constituted an unlawful interrogation, the Edwards analysis becomes clear-Blake's statement was a response to illegal interrogation and must be suppressed. Id. at 19.
Blake also argues that "curative measures" must ensure that a suspect decided to re-initiate the conversation independent of the illegal interrogation and that Detective Johns' statement was insufficient. Brief for Respondent at 20. If the police have violated Edwards by illegally questioning a suspect after he has invoked his right to remain silent, there is a presumption that any subsequent statements made by the suspect are inadmissible. Id. at 21. The most effective curative measure to counteract this presumption is to provide the suspect with counsel; short of that, there must be a clear demonstration that the claimed re-initiation was "a separate encounter from the previous unlawful interrogation." Id. at 22. In this case, Blake argues, there was no break in time or circumstance. The time between Reese's comment and Blake's question was insufficient because, in that time, Blake remained in his underwear and tank top to consider the incorrect penalty before him, and only then spoke to Johns at the next possible opportunity. Id. at 22-23.
Further, Blake argues that Detective Johns' statement was insufficiently "curative" for two reasons. First, Johns' statement merely restated Blake's Miranda rights, which may be considered ineffective and might only have confused Blake after Reese's challenge to his decision to seek counsel. Id. at 23-24 (citing Arizona v. Roberson, 486 U.S. 675, 686 (1988)). More importantly, unlawful interrogation of a suspect who has invoked his Miranda rights compromises the trustworthiness of the police altogether, and it is questionable whether any comment alone by a police officer can be sufficient as a curative measure. Brief for Respondent at 26. The second reason for the insufficiency of Detective Johns' statement is that even if it did reaffirm the intention of the police to honor Blake's decision to seek counsel, it fails to address the specific harm of Reese's remark. Id. at 27. Reese's remark not only challenges Blake's decision to invoke his right to counsel, it suggests that the decision could make it more likely that Blake will receive the death penalty; such a suggestion, that Blake made the wrong decision, cannot be cured by stating that Blake had the right to make that choice. Id. at 27-28. Moreover, Detective Johns' statement was not even directed towards Blake, but rather to Officer Reese. Id. at 30.
The Supreme Court's decision will determine whether Edwards allows police officers to make corrective measures once officers improperly address a suspect after that suspect has invoked their Miranda rights. Primarily, the Court's decision will determine whether police officers will be extremely limited or have additional latitude in their interaction with suspects after those suspects have requested an attorney.? The Edwards case has placed an emphasis on the rights of the suspect and attempts to eliminate, or at least limit, coercive interrogation methods once a suspect exercises his or her rights. The Supreme Court may hold that the Court of Appeals was incorrect in holding that Blake's statement was an extension of Officer Reese's inappropriate statement and not an initiation of contact with the police.? If the Court does overrule the Court of Appeals, two questions will remain unanswered: whether corrective measures will truly be used to correct innocent mistakes by police officers genuinely attempting to preserve the rights of suspects, or whether coercive "good cop/bad cop" interrogation techniques under the guise of corrective measures will be imposed after a suspect has invoked their Miranda rights.
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