Criminal Law

Right to Remain Silent: More Leeway on Miranda

One of the most famous and widely-used protections in criminal law is the Miranda "right to remain silent." This right is now less restrictive in a new US Supreme Court case. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court overturned the 1981 Edwards Rule.

Investigators can now question you again 14 days after an arrest and can even use these statements against you.

Why the Change?

Michael Shatzer, suspected of child abuse in Maryland, made incriminating statements to a police officer 2 1/2 years after he was first questioned for the child abuse charge. Shatzer was warned of his rights, invoked them and refused to talk without first consulting a lawyer. He was later sent to jail for another, unrelated charge.

When the new investigator asked Shatzer about the initial child abuse charge, Shatzer admitted he abused his son. At first, the Maryland court decided the statement couldn't be used against him because he was questioned without his lawyer present and it was a long time after the initial arrest.

However, the Supreme Court overturned the Maryland court's decision and ruled that Shatzer's incriminatory statements could be used to convict him of child abuse.

This case opens the door to police investigations and prosecutions, giving them more freedom to question suspects while maintaining safeguards to prevent police badgering. While the Miranda rule remains intact, it now has more boundaries and a time limit.

What Are Miranda Rights?

Miranda rights date back to 1966 when the US Supreme Court decided the historic case of Miranda v. Arizona. The Court decided that whenever a person is taken into police custody or possibly questioned in relation to a crime he's warned of hisĀ Fifth Amendment rights before the police can question him.

The Fifth Amendment protects you from making incriminating statements against yourself. As a result of Miranda, anyone in police custody must be told four things before being questioned:

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to an attorney
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you

The Old Law - Edwards Rule

Previously, the "Edwards rule" said police couldn't question a suspect after invoking his Miranda rights. This rule was to prevent police form harassing a suspect held in jail and had invoked his Miranda rights.

While agreeing that the police couldn't question suspects in jail, the Supreme Court felt this protection shouldn't extend to suspects who were later set free. The Edwards rule prevented police from questioning a freed suspect for a long time after his initial arrest. It even went so far as to cover different crimes that were committed.

Many criminals are repeat offenders, and the Supreme Court understood that preventing police officers from questioning suspects can be dangerous and inefficient.

The New Rule - 14 Days

The new rule allows police to question a person invoking his Miranda "right to remain silent" again after 14 days. If he freely agrees to talk, any incriminating statements can be used against him.

The court explained that 14 days provides enough time for the suspect to get accustomed to his normal day to day life, as well as talk with friends or a lawyer. The suspect needs to be "Mirandized" again before additional questioning.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I be forced to talk to police without my lawyer?
  • Are public defenders just as good as private lawyers?
  • If the police want to talk to me about the same crime, do they have to have to read me my rights again?
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