U.S. Supreme Court Eases Rules for Miranda Warning

Mar 8, 2010

Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Maryland v. Shatzer. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion, which six other Justices joined in full. Justice Thomas concurred in part and concurred in the judgment; Justice Stevens concurred in the judgment. The Court held that a fourteen-day break in custodial interrogation ends the Edwards v. Arizona rule which states that once a suspect invokes his Miranda rights, any subsequent waiver of the right triggered by a police request is deemed involuntary and is the result of coercion. In reversing the decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Court concluded that Shatzer’s return to his normal pre-interrogation life in the general prison population for a period of two-and-one-half years before re-interrogation constituted a sufficient break in custody enable him to voluntarily waive his Miranda rights. Therefore, the Edwards case did not require that Shatzer’s re-interrogation statements be suppressed, and the Court remanded the case for further proceedings.

The Court reasoned that a suspect who has been released for at least two weeks following the custodial interrogation in which he initially asserted a right to counsel will have had sufficient time to re-acclimate to his normal life, consult with counsel, family, and/or friends, and rebound from any lingering coercive effects of the prior custody. In adopting a bright-line fourteen-day rule, the Court noted the need for a clear and certain rule for law enforcement officers. In his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas disagreed with the Court’s creation of a fourteen-day rule, which he characterizes as arbitrary.

The Court next turned to the question of whether Shatzer’s return to the general prison population – where he was serving an unrelated sentence – constitutes a “break in custody” for Miranda purposes. The Court – in a part of the opinion joined by seven Justices, including Justice Thomas – held that it did. The Court reasoned that the release of a suspect who has been previously incarcerated back into the general prison population is a release to the suspect’s “accustomed surroundings and daily routine,” in which the suspect regains the same control over his life as he possessed prior to the interrogation.

The case is: Maryland v. Shatzer, No. 08-680.