Shatzer v. Maryland Bites Again

by Charles Gillingham

Shatzer v. Maryland imposed a strict requirement on officers once a suspect invoked her right to counsel. Officers MUST wait 14 days to reinitiate questioning after a suspect is released from Miranda custody. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the 14 day period was arbitrary but seemed like a sufficient amount of time for a suspect to contact an attorney and be free of the pressure of Miranda Custody. The Supreme Court also felt the 14 day requirement would alleviate any game playing where officers release a suspect who invoked merely to re-arrest that individual a short time later to again Mirandize him and attempt to take a statement.

A California Court of Appeal in People v. Bridgeford (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 887, had the occasion to address a similar concern. The wrinkle in Bridgeford was that the officers had acted in good faith. There was no attempt to game the system...the Court of Appeals held the 14 day requirement is alive and well, almost without exception.

FACTS

There were two incidents of note. In the first, three individuals wearing masks committed a home invasion robbery. The victim was awake. During the robbery one of the suspects used Bridgeford's first name. The victim immediately recognized Bridgeford because they grew up together, he knew him, Bridgeford had a distinct voice and body type, they lived close to one another, and had played basketball together. Typical of a dumb criminal, Bridgeford was identified as one of the three robbers because he robbed a friend.

The second home invasion ended in a double murder. The home was located next to the highway. The two victims were surenos, Bridgeford a norteno. Officers identified the shot gun shells discarded in the murder and knew they were sold at a local Walmart. Not surprisingly when the Officers viewed Walmart surveillance video they saw Bridgeford and accomplices in Walmart looking at ammunition. They saw two reach behind the counter unseen by the Walmart employee and walk out with a bag filled with something. No ammunition was sold that day from Walmart.

Two days after the first home invasion and one day after the double murder the Police Chief went to Bridgeford's house to request consent to search for evidence from the first home invasion. The Chief asked Bridgeford whether Bridgeford knew why he was there. Bridgeford responded "for the stuff that happened on the highway." The Chief was surprised as he was not there on the murder case.

A week later a co-defendant's house was searched and the rifle used in the homicide case was recovered.

CONFESSION

Officers brought Bridgeford to the police station in handcuffs. Although not told he was under arrest, it was clear he was. Bridgeford immediately invoked his right to counsel. Bridgeford was released as officers felt they did not have enough information to hold Bridgeford for the homicides.

Officers developed additional probable cause to arrest Bridgeford for the double murders and three hours later re-arrested Bridgeford. The transcript below shows Bridgeford waived and gave a statement.

Again, the Court of Appeal held that literal compliance with Shatzer is demanded. There may, in the future, be a case where officers act in good faith and need to arrest and question someone who has previously invoked within the 14 day period where a court will find that the statement doesn't violate Shatzer. This is not that case. It goes without saying that once probable cause to arrest a murder suspect is developed that person must be removed from the streets. An unintended consequence of Shatzer may be that officers may be forced to wait two weeks to interview the suspect or abstain altogether. That is an unacceptable consequence and perhaps another court may review such a situation and find an exception to Shatzer. Until then, literal compliance with the dictates of Shatzer is required.