Follow-Up to Maryland v. Shatzer

by Charles Gillingham

In Maryland v. Shatzer, the United States Supreme Court held that once an in custody suspect invokes the right to counsel, officers may not go back and attempt to reinterrogate the suspect for 14 days. But does that mean you cannot even talk to them? The California Supreme Court just took a look at that issue. In the case of People v. Dement (2011 W. L. 5903459) the court held, like always, it all depends on what type of talk.


FACTS

Defendant was in custody in the Fresno County Jail. A new inmate was brought into the jail. Andrews, the new inmate, was known to the defendant. Apparently, Andrews and the defendant's wife were friends. Defendant believed more than friends.

Out in the pod defendant reportedly told another inmate that if Andrews was put in his cell Andrews would have a short life expectancy. Unfortunately for Andrews, he was, somehow put in the same cell as defendant.

The results for Andrews were predictable. He was beaten and then ultimately strangled to death after the cells were locked down for the night. When the body was found in the morning, shockingly, defendant was the main suspect. Defendant immediately invoked his right to counsel upon deputies attempting to question him.

The detective then drove defendant to the hospital for treatment on his injured right hand. At the hospital, the detective chatted with the defendant about the fact that the detective had interviewed defendant's wife regarding a different murder. The detective told defendant that his wife was a subject in that case. The detective told the defendant that his wife was with a Tom Rutledge when Rutledge was arrested.

The detective then asked defendant if he and Rutledge were friends. The defendant replied that they were enemies and that if he and Rutledge were placed in a cell together the previous night's events would be repeated. The defendant asked the detective the name of the victim from that night, the detective told him. Defendant replied that he was a friend of Rutledge and they would both end up dead. Defendant then told the detective that his first victim and Rutledge were friends.
Defendant's statements to the detective were used against him at trial. He was convicted.

 

THE APPEAL AND DECISION

The defendant appealed relying on Shatzer. He argued that his statements should have been suppressed because he invoked his right to counsel and the detective should have had to wait 14 days to speak to him. The court held that Shatzer does not mean that an officer must wait 14 days to speak to a suspect who invokes their right to counsel. Officers are only prohibited from interrogating a suspect who has invoked their right to counsel for 14 days.

Remember interrogation is that question or statement designed to elicit an incriminating response. Because courts focus on what the officer knew at the time of the interaction, the court looked at the officer's conduct and whether the detective should have known his conversation would have reasonably caused the defendant to incriminate himself.

The first thing the court held was that Rutledge's name and the defendant's wife had not come up in the initial homicide investigation. Moreover, the detective didn't know of the link between Rutledge and the deceased. The court also found that the detective could not have known the act of telling the defendant the name of his first victim would lead to an incriminating response. For those reasons the court upheld the admission of the statement. Remember, it is okay to converse with the defendant after s/he invokes the right to counsel, but don't use that ability to attempt to draw a defendant into an incriminating statement.