A recent Maryland criminal case has made a statement about the constitutional rights of those convicted of crimes. Unfortunately, the decision makes an accused’s invocation of constitutional rights harder, instead of easier.
The Facts of the Case
The case involves the arrest of a man accused of shooting and robbing a man inside his home. He was charged with murder, and 11 other crimes.
The accused was taken into custody and interviewed in an interrogation room by police. There was lengthy conversation between the accused and the detectives before any Miranda rights were read.
The accused, before having his Miranda rights read, made a statement “I don’t want to say nothing. I don’t know–” before he was interrupted by a detective.
The accused then had his Miranda rights read, and later confessed to the crime to the interrogating detectives. He asked the court to suppress his confession, but that request was denied, meaning the confession could be used by the state at the Defendant’s trial.
Because of the denial, the accused and the state agreed on the facts of the case (which likely resulted in no actual trial, but rather a judgment that still preserved the accused’s right to appeal). He was subsequently convicted for his crimes based on the facts (including his confession).
On appeal, the accused argued his confession should be suppressed on the basis that the information was given involuntarily, and that he was coerced to make his confession even after stating he did not wish to speak.
The appellate court ultimately disagreed with the accused, and upheld the trial court’s decision not to suppress the statements, in a blow to defendants’ constitutional rights.
Court Weighs Miranda Issue
A confession must be made voluntarily to be admissible. Physical threats, or coercion, will render a confession invalid. A confession also must come after being read Miranda rights. The Miranda rights inform someone of the right to remain silent, per the Fifth Amendment, and if it’s invoked, it must be honored by police
The accused argued that when he said “I don’t want to say nothing. I don’t know–” that he did not want to speak about the crime, that he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Thus, the confession that came after that should have been suppressed.
The invocation of silence must be provided clearly and unambiguously by an accused. This isn’t as clear as it sounds. In other cases, Defendants who have said “I don’t got nothing to say,” “I ain’t gonna talk about sh-t,” or “I need somebody I can talk to,” have been found to be too ambiguous to have invoked their Miranda rights.
The test is an objective one. It doesn’t matter what a Defendant meant or thought. It only matters whether a reasonable detective would interpret a request to invoke Miranda silence rights as clear and unambiguous.
The appellate court upheld the trial court, finding that the “I don’t know–” made the previous statement that the accused didn’t want to say anything less than clear. Thus, the Court felt the Miranda rights had not been invoked, making the continued questioning permissible and the confession admissible.
Court Also Rules on Coercion Question
The accused also argued that he was coerced when police told him if he confessed he may “see outside again.”
Police can state the consequences of different charges, or comment on possible sentences or scenarios, but cannot threaten or promise better or worse punishment or promise cooperation or leniency in return for a confession.
The appellate court felt that telling the accused he “may not see the outside again” was simply a way of telling the accused that a first degree murder charge would result in a lifetime sentence, and thus, was simply properly apprising the accused of a possible outcome at trial. Thus, there was no coercion and the confession was admissible.
This case illustrates how scrutinized every statement made by a criminal Defendant can be. Subtle language, all taken in context, can be the difference between a statement being kept or thrown out. Sadly, appellate courts have almost required criminal defendants to become legal experts, making sure they use just precisely the right language, just to invoke their time honored constitutional rights.
If you are facing a trial for an arrest or criminal charge, you want a criminal law attorney on your side when dealing with law enforcement. The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience protecting the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. If you or someone you know was charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.