Edwards v. Arizona

  • October 6, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Susan A. Bandes, Distinguished Research Professor at DePaul University College of Law and Author of The Passions of Law

    Miranda v. Arizona and the cases implementing it tend to favor clear and unequivocal rules for the guidance of police, prosecutors, courts and suspects. In Edwards v. Arizona, the Court adopted a bright line rule mandating that once a custodial suspect has invoked his right to counsel under Miranda, he cannot be questioned again "until counsel has been made available to him, unless the suspect himself initiates further communication, exchanges or conversation with the police." While some of Miranda's bright line rules have been diluted or blurred, the Edwards rule has become increasingly rigid. In Arizona v. Roberson the Court held that once a suspect had invoked his right to counsel, he could not be questioned about any crime. In Minnick v. Mississippi, it held that the prohibition remained in force even after the suspect had been provided counsel, unless that counsel was present at questioning.

    In yesterday's argument in Maryland v. Shatzer the Court pushed the advocates to articulate a bright line rule that would limit Edwards without sacrificing its clarity. It considered limits based on passage of time, different crime, break in custody, and the distinction between pre-conviction and post-conviction status. On one point, the Court was in accord: some limits need to be set. It cannot be that "a defendant who invokes [his Fifth Amendment right to counsel] anywhere at any time is forever immune from being questioned by the police" about any crime.

    Justice Alito posed the extreme hypothetical: a suspect is questioned about joyriding in Maryland in 1999. He invokes his right to counsel under Miranda and is then released from custody. Ten years later he is taken into custody and questioned about a murder in Montana. Is the 2009 questioning barred by Edwards? Shatzer's counsel, public defender Celia Davis, maintained that Edwards would be violated in this situation. If so, Edwards' days are numbered.

  • October 5, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Erin Louise Palmer, Professorial Lecturer, American University Washington College of the Law

    On October 5, 2009, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Maryland v. Shatzer to decide whether the Edwards v. Arizona prohibition against interrogation of a suspect who has invoked his or her Fifth Amendment right to counsel is applicable where there is a substantial lapse in time or a break in custody before re-interrogating the suspect.

    In August 2003, a detective questioned Michael Blain Shatzer, Sr. regarding his alleged sexual abuse of his three-year-old son. Shatzer invoked his right to counsel, and the investigation was subsequently closed. In February 2006, the case was reopened and a different detective questioned Shatzer, not knowing that he had previously invoked his right to counsel. Shatzer at no time requested an attorney and ultimately confessed to the crime. Shatzer was in prison on an unrelated offense during the entire period between the interrogations.

    The trial court denied Shatzer's motion to suppress his 2006 statements, holding that his continuous incarceration on an unrelated offense constituted a break in custody that limited Shatzer's right to counsel absent another invocation of that right, and found him guilty of sexual abuse. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in failing to suppress Shatzer's statements because "the passage of time alone is insufficient to expire the protections afforded under Edwards." The Maryland Court of Appeals further held that Shatzer's continuous imprisonment between the first and second interrogation did not constitute a break in custody that would limit Shatzer's right to counsel.

    The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the bright-line rule in Edwards that "when an accused has invoked his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, a valid waiver of that right cannot be established by showing only that he responded to further police-initiated custodial interrogation even if he has been advised of his rights" is applicable when there is a substantial lapse in time or a break in custody before commencing a subsequent interrogation. Edwards was distinct factually: the case involved a mere one-day delay between interrogations, and the suspect in Edwards was in continuous police custody between the first and second interrogation.