Is a confession made by a criminal defendant more than two years and six months after invoking his or her Fifth Amendment right to counsel admissible in court?
In 2003, Michael Shatzer (“Shatzer”), an inmate at the Maryland Correctional Institution, invoked his Miranda rights, refusing to speak about alleged sexual child abuse without an attorney present. The investigation into Shatzer’s alleged sexual child abuse was closed later that year. In 2006, upon further evidence, the police opened a new investigation on the same matter and re-interrogated Shatzer, who had remained incarcerated for an unrelated offense during the entire interval. Shatzer waived his Miranda rights and made certain admissions. At trial, Shatzer moved to suppress the statements he made in 2006, arguing that the police’s re-interrogation violated the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Arizona, which held that, once a suspect requests counsel, the police and/or prosecutor may not subject that suspect to further interrogations until counsel is made available. Maryland argues that this presumption does not apply here due to (1) a break in police custody and (2) a substantial passage of time between Shatzer’s request for counsel and the subsequent interrogation. The Court of Appeals of Maryland agreed with Shatzer, holding that the Circuit Court for Washington County erred by admitting Shatzer’s statements. The Supreme Court’s decision will likely impact the manner in which the police and prosecutors approach and interview suspects who have invoked their right to counsel.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Is the Edwards v. Arizona prohibition against interrogation of a suspect who has invoked the Fifth Amendment right to counsel inapplicable if, after the suspect asks for counsel, there is a break in custody or a substantial lapse in time (more than two years and six months) before commencing reinterrogation pursuant to Miranda?
In 2003, the Hagerstown Police Department (“Police Department”) began investigating Respondent, Michael Shatzer (“Shatzer”), for alleged sexual abuse of his three-year-old son. On August 7, 2003, Detective Shane Blankenship visited Shatzer at the Maryland Correctional Institution, where Shatzer was serving time for an unrelated offense. At the meeting, Detective Blankenship advised Shatzer of his Miranda rights. After Detective Blankenship explained the purpose of his visit, Shatzer invoked his Miranda rights, refusing to speak about the allegations without counsel present. Detective Blankenship immediately ended the interview, and the investigation was closed later that year.
In February 2006, with Shatzer’s son older and presumably able to make more specific allegations, the Police Department opened a new investigation on the same matter. On March 2, 2006, Detective Paul Hoover interviewed Shatzer at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, where Shatzer, who had remained incarcerated for an unrelated offense during the entire interval, had been transferred. Detective Hoover explained the situation to Shatzer and then advised him of his Miranda rights. Shatzer then signed a form waiving his Miranda rights, including his right to have counsel present during his interrogation.
On March 7, 2006, Shatzer once again waived his Miranda rights before taking a polygraph test. After Detective Shawn Schultz concluded that Shatzer had failed the polygraph test, detectives resumed questioning Shatzer. During the ensuing interrogation, Shatzer allegedly became emotional and stated, “I didn’t force him. I didn’t force him.”After making this statement, Shatzer requested counsel and the interview ended.
On June 16, 2006, the police charged Shatzer with a number of offenses, including sexual child abuse. Before trial, Shatzer moved to suppress his 2006 statements on the basis that the statements were obtained in violation of 451 U.S. 477 (1981). The Circuit Court for Washington County (the “Circuit Court”) denied Shatzer’s motion to suppress, found Shatzer guilty of sexual abuse, and sentenced him to a term of fifteen years imprisonment. Shatzer appealed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland, the Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed the Circuit Court’s decision, holding that the Circuit Court erred in failing to suppress Shatzer’s statements.
On January 26, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Maryland’s petition for certiorari to determine whether a confession made by a criminal defendant more than two years and six months after invoking his Fifth Amendment right to counsel is admissible under Edwards.
The Fifth Amendment prohibits a state from compelling a criminal defendant “to be a witness against himself.” To ensure police compliance with this prohibition, the Supreme Court established a bright-line rule under which the police must inform a suspect of certain rights that he or she may exercise, including the right to counsel. Accordingly, a suspect’s statements are inadmissible if the police fail to inform that suspect of his or her Miranda rights. In Edwards v. Arizona, the Supreme Court created a second layer of protection to prevent law enforcement from badgering a suspect into waiving his or her right to counsel. Under this rule, if a criminal suspect requests counsel, that suspect cannot be interrogated unless or until he or she obtains counsel or independently approaches authorities to confess or make incriminating statements. This creates an irrebuttable presumption of coercion, i.e. the court assumes that any statements that that suspect makes are the result of coercive pressures inherent to the interrogation process. Lower courts are split as to whether or not a break in physical custody or the passage of time terminates this presumption. Some courts hold that such a break or passage terminates the presumption while others hold that the presumption applies regardless. In this case, the Supreme Court will resolve this split and decide if a break in physical custody or a significant lapse of time terminates Edwards’ presumption of coercion.
Effect of a Break in Custody on Terminating the Presumption of Coercion
Petitioner, the State of Maryland (“Maryland”), argues that the presumption of coercion should not apply when its application does not further Edwards’ goal of preventing police from badgering a suspect until he or she confesses. Maryland argues that, because a break in custody creates a significant change in environment, it signifies an absence of police badgering. Maryland argues that the coercive pressure of interrogation is largely due to an unspoken understanding between a suspect and his or her interrogator that the questioning will continue until that suspect confesses. In cases in which there is a break in custody, however, the suspect is clearly not under that same pressure, because the first interrogation did, indeed, end without a confession. Consequently, Shatzer’s release back into the prison population created a break in custody and, thereby, a termination of the presumption of coercion. Additionally, Maryland argues that the fact that Shatzer was released back into a confined situation, prison, is irrelevant, because an incarcerated individual grows accustomed to the prison system’s restraints and is no longer affected by them.
Amicus curiae, the United States, adds that most lower courts hold that a break in custody terminates the presumption of coercion, allowing the police to approach a suspect again. The United States argues further that the majority position is consistent with Miranda’s underlying goal of minimizing pressure that is likely to coerce a suspect into confessing. Additionally, the United States distinguishes this case from prior case law, which suggests that, once triggered, the Edwards presumptions lasts indefinitely, on the basis that all such cases involved suspects, who were in continuous police custody until re-approached.The United States points out that, if a suspect still feels that he or she cannot participate in an interrogation without the assistance, he or she may simply re-invoke her right to counsel.Finally, the United States argues that, for purposes of Miranda, a person serving a prison sentence is not in custody unless he or she is subject to additional restraints that surpass those of normal incarceration.
Conversely, respondent, Michael Shatzer (“Shatzer”), rejoins that Edwards’ bright-line rule dictates that, if a suspect requests counsel, his or her interrogation must cease until counsel is present. Shatzer argues further that a break in custody should not limit Edwards’ presumption, because a suspect’s request for counsel is effectively a request for assistance in his or her interaction with law enforcement.A suspect’s intermittent release from custody does not alter or revoke this request for assistance. Shatzer contends that recognizing a break in custody as a termination of Edwards’ presumption would effectively nullify the presumption for most defendants, because most cases involve multiple interrogations and a break in custody.
Additionally, Shatzer argues that he did not experience an actual break in custody, because the factors that Miranda identifies as contributing to compulsion, including societal isolation, confinement in an unfamiliar setting, physical discomfort, lack of control, fear, and confusion, are ever-present in the prison setting. Shatzer also argues that he had no meaningful opportunity to seek counsel in prison, a factor that many lower courts, including the Maryland Court of Appeals, consider significant in determining whether a suspect has been afforded his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. Finally, Shatzer argues that a prisoner often experiences additional fears that coerce him or her into confessing, including fear that a failure to cooperate or confess will negatively affect his or her release or lead to the imposition of harsher conditions.
Effect of a Significant Lapse of Time on Terminating the Presumption of Coercion
Maryland argues that Edwards’ additional layer of protection is unnecessary when police honor a suspect’s request for counsel over a significant length of time. Maryland argues that a court should not presume that coercion exists when re-interrogation is so far removed in time from a suspect’s initial invocation of his or her right to counsel; instead, a court should assess each case separately to determine if the police overreached. According to Maryland, if a significant break in time occurs, such as the more than two and a half year break in this case, Edwards’ presumption is inapplicable, because such a lapse does not remotely resemble the “‘persistent attempts by officials to persuade [a suspect] to waive his [or her] rights’ that the Edwards rule is designed to protect.”
Similarly, the United States argues that it is the combination of interrogation and custody that create the pressure that Miranda aims to counteract. Accordingly, if a person knows he or she will be incarcerated irrespective of confession, a prolonged period without investigation serves to diffuse such pressure.
Conversely, Shatzer argues that a lapse of time should not terminate Edwards’ presumption, because it would be impossible to identify a non-arbitrary time after which Edwards’ protections would not apply. Furthermore, even if the Court were to draw a line, Shatzer argues that for some defendants, including Shatzer, obtaining advice to re-invoke their right to counsel after a specified period of time would be cost prohibitive. In response, Maryland counters that a break in custody or the passage of a fixed period of time, determined by the Court, could serve as a clear breaking point.
In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether a confession made by a criminal defendant more than two and a half years after invoking his or her Fifth Amendment right to counsel is admissible under . The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will impact the manner in which the police and prosecutors approach and interview suspects who have invoked their right to counsel. Petitioner, the State of Maryland (“Maryland”), argues that the Supreme Court intended its decision in Edwards to protect suspects against the inherently coercive pressure of interrogation in a police-dominated setting and, therefore, Edwards’ presumption of coercion should not apply where no reasonable possibility of police badgering exists. Respondent, Michael Shatzer (“Shatzer”), on the other hand, argues that, in Edwards, the Supreme Court created a bright-line rule to ensure that statements made while a suspect is in custody are not obtained though coercion.
Amici curiae, Attorneys General of thirty-seven states (“Attorneys General”), argue that a ruling in favor of Shatzer would create an unending extension of Edwards that fails to take into account the states’ law enforcement interest in investigating new leads in order to solve dormant or “cold cases.” According to the Attorney Generals, such an extension would discourage the police from investigating new leads if a suspect were already incarcerated for another offense.
Conversely, amicus curiae, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NACDL”), argue that finding an exception for a break in custody would undermine Edwards’ goal of ensuring that statements made while a suspect is in custody are not obtained though coercion. Preserving a suspect’s right to choose to have counsel present during an interrogation serves both administrative and substantive purposes. According to NACDL, an attorney may moderate an officer’s potentially overbearing conduct, advise the suspect of his rights, assist in creating a dependable record of the interrogation, and advise a suspect regarding the advantages of a potential plea bargain to aid law enforcement in solving past or ongoing crimes.
Although both Maryland and Shatzer argue that a ruling in their respective favor would increase clarity by providing judges and law enforcement with definite guidelines, the parties differ on how this clarity should be achieved. Amicus curiae, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (“CJLF”), argues that establishing a clear time limit for Edwards’ presumption would preserve the underlying rationale of adopting the presumption and reduce the cost of inquiring into factually similar cases. According to CJLF, a specific cutoff would provide law enforcement with notice that once the accused has asked for counsel, officers may not request a new waiver for a fixed period of time. Conversely, NACDL argues that Edwards’s bright-line rule, in its current state, provides judges and law enforcement with a clear and easily enforceable line demarcating the boundaries of the right to counsel. NACDL states Edwards’ bright-line rule already informs police and prosecutors of permissible conduct during custodial interrogations, as well as informs courts of the circumstances in which they should deem statements obtained during interrogation inadmissible.
Additionally, CJLF emphasizes that a decision in Shatzer’s favor would extend Edwards so far as to immunize a suspect from re-interrogation regardless of the time elapsed after his or her request for counsel. According to CJLF, such immunization would create “a class of [suspects] who are forever question proof – even though law enforcement officers would have no way of knowing that the [suspects] enjoys question-proof status.” Shatzer counters that CJLF disregards the fact that law enforcement officers may re-interrogate that “class” by having counsel present. Additionally, Shatzer argues that supplying the accused with counsel benefits the prosecution in that it is more difficult for a suspect to argue that a statement made in counsel’s presence is involuntary.
The Supreme Court’s decision will balance suspects’ right to be free of police badgering with law enforcement’s competing interest in bringing criminals to justice.
In Maryland v. Shatzer, the Supreme Court will decide if a break in custody or a significant lapse of time terminates Edwards v. Arizona’s irrebuttable presumption that any statements made by a criminal defendant after invoking his or her Fifth Amendment right to counsel are the product of a coercive interrogation environment. The Court's decision in this case will balance suspects’ right to be free of police badgering with law enforcement’s competing interest in bringing criminals to justice. The decision will likely impact the manner in which the police and prosecutors approach and interview suspects who have invoked their right to counsel.