The Supreme Court, this week, issued opinions in two key Miranda rights decisions.
Florida v. Powell: Tuesday, February 23, 2010. Click here for the opinion. The 7-2 opinion, with Justices Stevens and Breyer dissenting, clarified a Miranda statement issue. Kevin Dwayne Powell was arrested and convicted of illegally possessing a firearm. He signed a Miranda statement that stated “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.” Though the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction because the statement did not explicitly say that Powell had the right to an attorney during the interview, the U.S. Supreme Court, through Justice Ginsburg, held that the words were sufficiently clear and that the understanding of the statement was that an attorney could be present during the interview.
Maryland v. Shatzer: Wednesday, February 24, 2010. Click here for the opinion. Michael Shatzer invoked his Miranda rights in 2003 and did not answer investigators’ questions. Then, in 2006, another investigator approached Shatzer. This time, Shatzer did not invoke his Miranda rights. The issue facing the Court was whether Shatzer’s initial request for an attorney to be present had a time limit or not. The Court issued a surprising bright-line ruling that a suspect’s request for an attorney to be present expires 14 days after release from custody. Police can try again after that point.
Both rulings seem to take away a ground for appealing a criminal conviction. While this may not seem fair to suspects, the rulings clear up some of the murkiness of Miranda rights and allow police to focus their efforts on questioning, rather than worrying about ruining a case because of an error in presenting the Miranda statement. The Court is not done clarifying the realm of Miranda statements just yet. It has one more case pending: whether police can question a suspect who claims he understands his Miranda rights but does not invoke them.