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December 28, 2011

Maryland Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court's Suppression Ruling

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a ruling last week in a case that could have long-reaching effects on police interrogation, overturning a trial court's suppression of a Defendant's statements based on a finding that he was not in custody when he incriminated himself. Although the case will surely be appealed, if the Court of Special Appeals' ruling is upheld, a loophole in the requirement that police officers provide arrested individuals their "Miranda rights" has been expanded.

The rights protected by the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, have long been a bastion of protection for criminal defendants: these include, primarily, the right to not provide the police with self-inculpatory statements, and the right to representation by an attorney. The police know that when a suspect has an attorney representing him or her, the chances of obtaining incriminating evidence against that suspect drop off precipitously. Our experienced Annapolis criminal defense attorneys have the background necessary to protect these and other rights that criminal defendants have at their disposal.

handcuffs.jpg In State v. Thomas, the Defendant Thomas was interrogated at a police station regarding allegations that he had sexually assaulted his 14-year-old daughter. After a pre-trial suppression hearing, the trial court found that a reasonable person in the Defendant's position - sitting in a police interrogation room with the door closed, albeit unlocked, and being questioned about having sex with his daughter - would not have felt free to leave. The trial court also determined that the detectives were not merely asking questions to determine what had happened; they were actively trying to develop a case against the Defendant. As the trial court stated, "[the detectives] were gathering evidence. 'What did you do? Where was she touched? When did it start? How many times did you do it?' And the argument is that Miranda warnings should not have been given?"

The trial court continued, "[a]t the end of the day, the query remains, what is wrong with giving people their Miranda rights? And I'll tell you what's wrong with it. As soon as defendants are given their Miranda warnings, they often lawyer up. And when they lawyer up, they don't get the information that detectives want to get."

The State appealed the evidence suppression under Section 12-302 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Maryland Code, which permits interlocutory appeals under very limited circumstances. Following the appeal, the Court of Special Appeals overturned the trial court's suppression. There are a number of factors that the Court had to weigh to determine whether the interrogation at the police station was "custodial." These include:

when and where it occurred, how long it lasted, how many police were present, what the officers and the defendant said and did, the presence of actual physical restraint on the defendant or things equivalent to actual restraint such as drawn weapons or a guard stationed at the door, and whether the defendant was being questioned as a suspect or as a witness. Facts pertaining to events before the interrogation are also relevant, especially how the defendant got to the place of questioning whether he came completely on his own, in response to a police request or escorted by police officers. Finally, what happened after the interrogation whether the defendant left freely, was detained or arrested may assist the court in determining whether the defendant, as a reasonable person, would have felt free to break off the questioning.

Pre-Interrogation

The Court of Special Appeals determined that since the Defendant had driven himself at the station at the mere request, rather than demand, of the police officers, that there was no coercion on the part of the police in getting him to the station.

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June 16, 2011

Miranda Warning Requirement Strengthened for Juvenile Suspects

The Miranda warnings that a police officer is required to provide to an arrested individual, including the fact that the suspect is entitled to an attorney and has the right to remain silent, are ingrained in American culture through their frequent depictions in movies and television. The reality of the Miranda warnings was strengthened today when the Supreme Court ruled in J.D.B. v. North Carolina that a police officer interrogating a juvenile must take youth's age into consideration when determining whether to give the individual a "Miranda warning."

The effect of this ruling will be to expand protection for all juveniles suspected of criminal activity, including those faced with possible criminal charges in Maryland. Unfortunately, as the underlying facts of this case demonstrate, the rights of criminal suspects are often violated during police investigations. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can stand up for the rights a person charged with a crime, and protect the constitutional rights that a defendant is entitled to.

In the J.D.B. v. North Carolina case, a 13-year-old suspected in a string of local burglaries. A police officer came to the boy's school and took the young man out of the classroom to a closed-door conference room where the boy was questioned for 30 minutes. The police officer did not provide J.D.B. with a Miranda warning. Likewise, he was not given the opportunity to call his grandmother or legal guardian. North Carolina argued that the officer's questioning of J.D.B. was not an interrogation, and J.D.B. was not under arrest, because he could have left the room at any time.

The Supreme Court overturned J.D.B.'s conviction, based on the fact that he had not been provided the proper Miranda warnings. The Court held that sometimes Miranda warnings are required even when an individual is not technically detained, if that person would not understand that he or she was free to leave. Here, the Court felt that the 13-year-old, sitting in a closed-door conference room at his school in the presence of school officials and a police officer, without the assistance of his guardian, might not have understand what his rights were.

The Court held that J.D.B. was essentially in custody, and that interrogation of an individual in police custody creates "inherently compelling pressures." Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, 467 (1966). The Court pointed out that these pressures can induce individuals to wrongly confess to crimes they never committed at a "frighteningly high" rate. Specifically, the Court's ruling required that a police officer must take a person's age into account when determining whether to read to that person his or her Miranda rights. This decision could lead to a dramatic proliferation of Miranda warnings; "the practical effect of the ruling may be that officers, to be on the safe side legally, would give warnings to any suspect who does not appear to be close to age 18."

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