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Edwards Presumption and Shatzer Exception: When 14 days makes all the difference!

To start, we know that Miranda warnings are required when there is both interrogation and custody.  One of the Miranda advisements is that a suspect has a right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation.  If the suspect does not waive that right, or at some point during the interrogation unequivocally asks for counsel, questioning of the suspect must stop. In Edwards v. Arizona, (1981) 451 U.S. 477, Edwards had been arrested in Arizona for murder and robbery.  At the police station, Edwards initially waived his Miranda rights, but later asked for an attorney.  Questioning of Edwards stopped. The next morning, two detectives went to the jail with a tape-recorded statement of Edwards’ accomplice diming him out.  Edwards said he did not wish to speak with the detectives, but the guard told him he had to.  The detectives Mirandized Edwards again, and he agreed to speak with them if he could listen to the recording of his accomplice implicating him. Officers played the tape. Edwards then confessed. The United States Supreme Court found his confession inadmissible.  The Court established the Edwards presumption that once a suspect invokes his right to counsel, any subsequent Miranda waiver is presumed involuntary until counsel is present or the suspect himself initiates the future communication. This applies to different offenses; if a suspect invokes right to counsel during interrogation regarding one crime, he may not be reapproached regarding any offense unless counsel is present.

Is there any amount of time where one’s invocation of the right to counsel resets? A month? A year? In Maryland v. Shatzer, (2010) 559 U.S. 98, the United States Supreme Court addressed this very question. In 2003, Shatzer was serving a prison sentence for other crimes when a detective went to interview him involving Shatzer’s sexual abuse of his son.  Shatzer was interviewed in a room at the prison where he was housed.  He was mirandized. Shatzer refused to speak without his attorney present, so no questioning took place and Shatzer went back into general prison population.  Two and a half years later, in 2006, Shatzer’s son provided additional information, so another detective went to the prison now housing Shatzer, read Shatzer his Miranda rights and obtained a written waiver from Shatzer. Shatzer denied most of the conduct but agreed to take a lie detector test.  Five days later, after failing the lie detector test, Shatzer incriminated himself in the sexual abuse.  Shatzer sought to suppress all 2006 statements claiming detectives violated the Edwards rule by recontacting him after he had invoked his right to an attorney in 2003.  The Court felt that the Edwards presumption should not last forever; thus, the Court held that the years that passed had been adequate to counteract the coercive pressure and Shatzer’s statements were admissible.

The Court in Shatzer held that when a suspect invokes the right to counsel during custodial interrogation but is subsequently released from Miranda custody for a period of 14 days, the Edwards presumption dissolves. 14 days is enough for a suspect “to get reacclimated to his normal life, to consult with friends and counsel, and to shake off any residual coercive effects of his prior custody.” Id. at 110.  The next issue in Shatzer is whether his return to general population in prison constituted a break in custody under Miranda.  The Court held that a prisoner’s return to general population qualifies as a break in custody for purposes of this 14-day rule. The Court noted that when prisoners “are released back into the general prison population, they return to their accustomed surroundings and daily routine—they regain the degree of control they had over their lives prior to the interrogation. Id. 113. The Shatzer Court did not specifically hold that this rule only applies to sentenced inmates, but the Court noted as part of its rationale that the interrogator has no power to increase the duration of incarceration for the sentenced prisoner.

What about a Defendant in custody awaiting trial?  Can an officer recontact a Defendant who is in pretrial custody after he has invoked his right to an attorney? Although the US Supreme Court has not addressed this specifically, nearly every court to address this question has concluded that pretrial detainees are subject to the Edwards presumption, not the Shatzer exception.  With pretrial detainees, officers often do have some influence over charging, or at least the suspects believe that to be the case.  Courts opine that the Defendant’s release back to pretrial confinement does not constitute “normal life” as they often are still processing the pressures of continued confinement and acclimating to isolation from family and friends.

What does this mean for you? Suspect serving his sentence in jail or prison, and you wait at least 14 days, go forth and reconnect.  Suspect in custody awaiting trial or sentencing, you’ll have to hope he recontacts you.

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