Maryland High Court Discusses Assertion Of Miranda Rights In Criminal Prosecutions

Last fall, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Browne v. State (2013), discussing the circumstances under which a suspect of a crime is entitled to be advised of his Miranda rights prior to being questioned by law enforcement officers.

In Browne, the defendant, Donald Browne, was implicated in a home invasion by DNA evidence discovered on gloves left by him at the scene of the incident. Browne was convicted after a jury trial of a number of criminal offenses, including robbery with a dangerous weapon and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence, burglary, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a firearm after conviction of a qualifying crime. Browne was later sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison.

Prior to trial, Browne moved to suppress several oral statements he made to one of the police officers investigating the incident. The officer interviewed Browne at the Baltimore County Detention Center, where Brown was being held on unrelated charges, in a small visiting room.

During the interview, the officer informed Browne that he was investigating a case “where [Browne’s] name had come up.” Browne asked the officer why he was being questioned and in what nature his name had come up. The officer then read Browne his Miranda rights, advising Brown he could talk to an attorney before and during questioning.

Miranda warnings are given by law enforcement officers to criminal suspects in police custody prior to being interrogated, advising them of certain constitutional rights they possess, including the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and the right to have an attorney provided at no cost. Browne responded that, although he had a lawyer, he would talk with the officer.

The officer then interviewed Browne for ten to fifteen minutes. At some point during the interview, Browne admitted that he had worked on a paving job at a drag-racing strip owned by the victim of the robbery. Following this admission, the officer informed Browne that his DNA had been recovered from the gloves, after which Browne asked to speak to his attorney.

In arguing to suppress his statements made during the interview, Browne contended that he had informed the officer that he had a lawyer and that he would like for his lawyer to be there for the questioning. In denying Browne’s motion to suppress, the trial court found that Browne had been properly advised of his Miranda rights and voluntarily agreed to talk with the officer without his attorney present.

In affirming the trial court’s denial of Browne’s motion to suppress, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the trial court was entitled to credit the officer’s testimony that Browne voluntarily participated in the interview and did not invoke his right to counsel until the interview was underway, and when he did so, the interview was halted. The Court went on to determine that, because Browne did not unequivocally assert his rights to remain silent and right to an attorney prior to commencing the interview, the statements he made were admissible.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.