Mar 12, 2010

Love and Miranda Warnings Can Be Better the Second Time Around

A long-standing issue concerning the Miranda warnings is the "shelf life" of a suspect's refusal to talk to the police.  Of course, if a suspect chooses not to talk, the cops can't wait a few minutes and give the suspect a second set of Miranda warnings, in the hope that this time the suspect will change his mind and start blabbing.  But does a suspect's refusal to talk forever foreclose further questioning attempts? This was the issue that the US Supreme Court addressed in Maryland v. Shatzer (2010).   

In this case, a cop tried to interview Shatzer about possible sexual absue of his son.  After receiving Miranda warnings, Shatzer decided not to talk to the cop.  The interview was terminated and the case file was closed.  About 3 years later, based on new information, the cops re-opened the case file.  They gave Shatzer another Miranda warning, and this time he agreed to waive his rights to silence and a lawyer and talked to the cops.  Shatzer's incriminating statements were inroduced into evidence against him at trial and he was convicted of sexual abuse of his son.

The Court unanimously upheld the conviction.  The case establishes a rare bright-line rule:  Miranda rights last for 14 days.  If there's a "break in custody" of 14 days or more, the cops can issue a new Miranda warning to a suspect who previously refused to talk to them.  If the suspect waives his rights to silence and a lawyer the second time around, any statements the suspect makes are admissible in evidence at trial.  

So like Love, for cops Miranda rights can be wonderful the second time around.