FEATURED IN TRAINING
On March 17, 2010, a judge in Lake County, Ill., ruled that a videotaped murder confession wouldn’t be admitted into evidence in the trial of a man who was arrested for, and who admitted to, stabbing his wife to death outside a hotel on July 5, 2008. Defense attorneys for the man, charged with first degree murder, asserted at a pretrial hearing that police continued to question him after he advised them he wanted a lawyer. The videotaped confession is purported to show that the man asked for a lawyer, not once, but 60 times.
Although this is an extreme case, the question often arises as to when police are permitted to question suspects after they invoke their right under Miranda to speak with an attorney. On Feb. 24, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court instituted a strict bright-line rule regarding this issue.
Maryland v. Shatzer
In Maryland v. Shatzer,  Michael Shatzer, who was incarcerated in a Maryland prison on a child sex abuse offense, was questioned by a detective who was investigating a separate allegation of sex abuse—this one involving Shatzer’s own son. The detective gave Shatzer his Miranda warnings and Shatzer refused to talk without his attorney being present. Shatzer went back to the general prison population and the investigation was closed.
Two and a half years later, after receiving more specific allegations of sex abuse of Shatzer’s son, a different detective interviewed Shatzer, who was still serving time in prison. The second detective also read Shatzer his Miranda warnings and this time, Shatzer agreed to talk without an attorney. Shatzer never referred to his prior refusal to answer questions without an attorney.
After agreeing to take a polygraph test, and failing the test, Shatzer incriminated himself in the crime but immediately thereafter, requested an attorney. The detective promptly terminated the interrogation.
As a result of that interrogation, Shatzer was charged with several crimes. He moved to suppress his confession, arguing that the Edwards  rule applied and, as such, his confession was inadmissible. The trial court denied his motion. After a bench trial, Shatzer was found guilty. Shatzer appealed and the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court. The matter was then taken before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Miranda provides that once a suspect requests an attorney, the interrogation must cease until the attorney is present. However, a suspect is always free to waive his Miranda rights. Once the suspect waives his rights, the state has the burden to demonstrate that the waiver is “knowing, intelligent and voluntary.”
Several years later, in Edwards v. Arizona, the Supreme Court imposed a second layer of protection in those cases where a suspect, who was previously provided Miranda warnings, later waived his rights in a subsequent interrogation. Once the suspect invokes his rights, police were not permitted to question the suspect again, except in very limited circumstances. This added protection is often referred to as the Edwards rule. The intent was to prevent investigators from pressuring a suspect who was in prolonged custody into talking to them after he had previously asserted his Miranda rights.
Of course, this rule made sense for suspects who were in jail, but it frustrated the investigative efforts of law enforcement regarding those suspects who were set free. Indeed, the police community has been taught to never re-question a freed suspect, even if it was conducted by a different law enforcement agency, or for entirely different crimes. “In a country that harbors a large number of repeat offenders, this consequence is disastrous.”
The Supreme Court sought a more sensible rule. According to the court, when “a suspect has been released from his pretrial custody and has returned to his normal life for some time before the later attempted interrogation, there’s little reason to think that his change of heart regarding interrogation without counsel has been coerced. He has no longer been isolated. He has likely been able to seek advice from an attorney, family members and friends.”
In Shatzer’s case, after the initial interrogation where he invoked his Miranda rights, he was released to the general prison population (which was Shatzer’s “normal life”) and it wasn’t until two and a half years later that he was asked to be interrogated again. According to the court, this was surely enough time to represent an adequate break in custody so as to avoid the coercive affect of prolonged custody at issue in Edwards.