THE COUNSELOR=S CORNER
We finally won one. By we, I am referring to citizens of this country and criminal defense attorneys alike. In late June, the United States Supreme Court in a frighteningly close 5 to 4 vote decided that statements which are obtained from what is referred to as a A2-step interrogation@ would not be admissible in a court of law. This is the matter of the State of Missouri v. Seibert. In this matter Patrice Seibert was arrested for allegedly setting her home on fire in an attempt to cover up the death of one of her children. The death was an accident. In this case the Missouri Police Department did what had become their custom as they had discovered what they thought was an excellent way to get around giving people their Miranda warnings and telling them they have the right to an attorney before being questioned. In this case, the officer who was to question Ms. Seibert was told that he should first ask her what he wanted to ask her without giving her Miranda warnings. He did so and she answered his questions. After obtaining her confession, he then gave her the Miranda warning before questioning her again. She again answered his questions.
The court=s opinion was written by Justice David Souter who called this Aby any objective measure, a police strategy adapted to undermine the Miranda warnings.@ Justice Souter wrote that to first ask questions without giving a person her Miranda rights, then to give her the Miranda rights Ain the midst of coordinated and continuing interrogations, misleads suspects about their constitutional rights.@ Justice Souter took issue with the fact that the police did not advise Ms. Seibert that the un-Mirandized statements she had initially given could not be used against her. Any reasonable individual would think that they might as well answer the questions the second time after having been given their Miranda rights as they have already given it all away when they were asked the questions the first time. Most people don=t have the courage to ask a police officer why the officer hasn=t given them their Miranda rights before questioning. Most people who are in custody try to get along with the officer as well as possible. If a police officer asks you a set of questions without Mirandizing you, then gives you your Miranda rights and then re-asks the same questions, of course you are going to answer them as it would seem foolish at that point in time to say no, I want to speak to an attorney. The Supreme Court Justices came down hard on Missouri viewing the police tactic as a Acalculated way to undermine the Miranda warning,@ according to Justice Kennedy. Four Justices adopted Justice Souter=s reasoning; Justice Kennedy wrote the concurring opinion and the four more conservative Justices dissented.
I am really impressed by the reaction of the number one law enforcement officer in the State of Missouri, Attorney General Jay Nixon. After reading the Supreme Court=s ruling he said that the community relies on police officers to investigate crimes and it is not appropriate for police officers to be trained to use the type of techniques that were used in this case. He indicated that police departments throughout the state should take note.
In a nutshell, the approach of the Missouri Police Department in this case is designed to obtain a confession from an individual, then read her rights to her and get her to confess again. Fortunately the United States Supreme Court decided that this is not how the State of Missouri should be doing business. This is the kind of ruling that gladdens my heart and lets me knows that at least five Justices in the highest court in the land decided that what the Missouri Police were doing was wrong and that it was time to bring this practice to an end.