Articles Posted in Miranda Rights

During a recent motion hearing in Springfield Massachusetts, a murder defendant took the stand claiming he was too high on PCP-laced marijuana to understand the miranda rights that were read to him by the arresting officers. The defendant  Lee Rios said that he only agreed to sign the Miranda warning because he wanted to get information from the police and, without signing, the police would not talk to him.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has noted that the four warnings that constitute miranda are not to be changed, but that the exact words in which the essential information should be conveyed has not been dictated. As long as the miranda rights are reasonably dictated to the person being charged with a crime, the Supreme Court recognizes the warning as valid. If the officer fails to make the miranda warnings clear to the individual or if the officer fails to give the defendant in custody all of the required Miranda warning than the warning is technically incomplete.mirandawarninginfographic-228x300

However, Lee Rios claimed he simply could not understand what the officer was telling him because he was high on marijuana that was laced with PCP. In order to support this claim, the defendant pointed out the “weird noises” he was making during the interview with officers; noises he makes only when he is under the influence of PCP. During cross examination by the district attorney, it was made evident that Rios knew he could wait for a lawyer and that he did not have to talk to the police at all. Rios, a 24-year old man from Springfield is charged with the 2015 murder of an 18 year old Kenneth Lopez. During the interview with police, Rios told them he was a 6 or 7 on a scale of how high he was, with 10 being the highest variable.

A New York woman was not read her Miranda rights prior to a 45 minute, unrecorded interview with police after her husband’s kayak capsized in the Hudson river, resulting in his death.  A police investigator claims that Angelika Graswald told him that she took her fiance’s paddle after he capsized and held it while he begged her to call 911.  Graswald was not read her Miranda rights prior to the 45 minute unrecorded interrogation she had with detectives.  Police claim that during the interview, Graswald admitted that there was a plug in her fiance’s kayak and that she took it out.  Police claim that Graswald became a suspect only after that meeting.  In Massachusetts, the SJC Court has held that it prefers interrogation to be recorded and that a failure to record an interrogation can be held against the Commonwealth in determining whether the statements were voluntarily made.  The lack of a recording should be held against the State in determining whether it satisfies its burden of showing a valid waiver of Miranda.

The Miranda warning is a right to silence warning given by police to a criminal suspect in police custody before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings.  Miranda is part of a preventive criminal procedure rule that law enforcement are required to administer to protect an individual who is in custody and subject to direct questioning or its functional equivalent from a violation of his or her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  The admission of an elicited incriminating statement by a suspect not informed of these rights violates the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

An officer is free to ask questions before an arrest, but must inform the suspect that the questioning is voluntary and that she is free to leave at any time.  If this information is unknown to suspect, then the statements are not admissible in court.  In the case of Graswald, she was questioned alone on the island from which she was rescued.  This is hardly an environment that would make someone with no experience with the police feel free to walk away from.  Graswald said that police kept asking her the same questions until she was at her breaking point. She says that she told them what they wanted so the interview would end. These statements by Graswald show that she did not feel free to leave during the questioning, and therefore these statements should be inadmissible.

The Constitution protects us when we make statements under police interrogation without being advised of our rights, or when we decide not to make any statements at all. One of the key rights stated in a Miranda warning is the right to remain silent. This right guarantees that a defendant will not be portrayed in a negative light before a jury simply for choosing not to respond to a question posed by police. But a Washington Court of Appeals recently ruled that a prosecutor is allowed to reference the defendant’s post-arrest silence because the reference to the defendant’s silence was not made with the intention proving the defendant’s guilt.

The Recent Case of Washington v. Price

In the matter of Washington v. Price, the defendant was pulled over by police after they observed him run a stop sign and hit a curb while turning. During the traffic stop, the officers noticed signs of intoxication and also discovered that he was operating with a suspended license. The officers then informed the defendant that he was under arrest, and ordered him to exit the vehicle. The defendant refused to comply, so the officers tazed the defendant.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently found that a Boston police officer during a murder investigation did not honor the defendant invocation of his right to remain silent. The Court found that the defendant invoked his right to remain silent and that the officer continued to question the defendant in hopes to persuade him to talk. Consequently, the Court suppressed the statements at trial.

In Commonwealth v. Hearns, decided April 8, 2014, the defendant was indicted in a gang related shooting. He went to the police station and was told that the Boston police had put together a strong case. The defendant admitted to being a gang member but denied being involved in any feud. The defendant asked the officers can you tell me how these cases go together; the officer responded that is something we will discuss in court. The defendant stated then, I do not want to talk. I got nothing to say. The officer than implied that the shooting may have been an accident at which time the defendant responded that he did not shoot anyone. The officer continued to ask questions until the defendant said if I am under arrest take me away. The full Hearns decision can be found by following this link.

Decision of the Massachusetts Highest Court

As a Brockton Criminal Defense Lawyer, many times when I review a case for the first time, I see that a defendant has made a damaging admission. Often, suppression of the statement is critical to a successful defense at trial.

Because of the importance of a defendant’s Miranda rights and the incriminatory effect that a waiver of these rights might have, the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant waived his rights knowingly, intelligently, and willingly. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently reviewed the issue of whether a defendant who ingested cocaine two days before turning himself in on a murder charge and who alleged to have no recollection of the crime made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights. In Commonwealth v. Stevie Walker, the Court considered the defendant’s waiver within the entire context in which it was made, including an examination of the defendant’s conduct, age, education, intelligence, emotional stability, criminal history, physical and mental condition, and the manner the waiver was obtained.

Walker was a suspect in the fatal stabbing of a victim in her apartment on the afternoon of November 4, 2005. Earlier that morning, Walker admitted to have been at a friend’s apartment located one floor below the victim’s apartment, smoking crack cocaine with his friend. The defendant and his friend fell asleep, and then awoke in the afternoon, at which point the defendant smoked more cocaine. After having left the apartment between 2 and 3 P.M., the defendant allegedly went up to the victim’s apartment and fatally stabbed the victim. He was discovered by the building manager in the victim’s bathroom, near the victim who was lying under a rug on the floor with a kitchen-knife protruding from her neck. The building manager wrestled with the defendant to prevent his escape, but the defendant overcame her and fled using an emergency exit.

The defendant claiming to have recently awoken with blood “all over”. The defendant told the officers he was there to turn himself in. The officers arrested the defendant and read him his Miranda rights which the defendant acknowledged understanding. The officer than asked the defendant if he had been drinking or using drugs, and the defendant responded, “Not in a while.” The defendant was read his Miranda rights two more times, and the defendant initialed a document with his rights listed, and printed his name on a waiver form, confirming that he understood he was waiving his rights.

During the interview with detectives later that morning, the defendant did not confess to stabbing the victim but claimed that he had just woken up inside a locked storage room and found blood all over him. He claimed to have had no recollection of the events since smoking cocaine at his friend’s apartment “a few days ago.” The defense sought to argue that the defendant was mentally debilitated when he waived his Miranda rights, and offered the expert testimony of two psychologists who examined the defendant and diagnosed him with having an unspecified personality disorder with paranoid and schiz-atypical attributes, as well as with cocaine dependence.

Despite the evidence presented by the defense, the Court concluded that there was no evidence that the defendant’s will was overborn when he chose to waive his Miranda rights. Defendant confirmed at the police station that he understood his rights several times, and that he had knowingly, intelligently, and willingly chosen to waive them.

The SJC also found that the officers did not observe any indication from the defendant’s conduct or speech that he was in any way impaired. Given these findings, in addition to the fact that the officers confirmed that he had eleven years of education and a prior criminal record indicating his familiarity with Miranda rights, the Court held the waiver to be valid.

Among the most important factors in the Court’s determination was the defendant’s seemingly unimpaired behavior, as observed by the police officers. The defendant had demonstrated that he was fully conscious of his surroundings and his decisions. Not only was he aware of his statements, but he was even selective in denying certain snacks and drinks offered to him during the interview. Although the defendant had a cocaine dependency had only awoken minutes before with no recollection of the past days’ events, his overall conduct was the determinative factor.
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We are familiar with Miranda Rights-the preventive criminal procedure rule that law enforcement is required to dictate to suspects in custody before interrogation. The Miranda warning protects the individual in custody from self-incrimination, protecting their 5th amendment rights. Typically, when law enforcement fails to administer Miranda Rights, anything said by the suspect in custody cannot be used at a criminal trial. However, what happens when a suspect has been read their Miranda Rights, attempts to contact counsel, but when they are not successful at reaching their attorney- continues to answer police interrogations without them?

In the recent case of Berghuis v. Moore, a suspect asked a police officer to call an attorney listed on a business card. The officer called the number but reached an answering machine, not the attorney. However, after this attempt, the suspect did not refuse to speak to police without their counsel present. In fact, the suspect signed a Miranda waiver and then proceeded to confess to a brutal murder.

However, before trial, the defendant sought to have his statement to law enforcement suppressed as involuntary, even though he agreed to speak without counsel after the officer attempted to contact his attorney, and even though he signed a Miranda waiver. The trial court ruled that the defendant had validly waived his rights, and denied the motion to suppress. A jury then convicted the defendant to first-degree premeditated murder. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court decision, ruling there was no error. The defendant sought review by the Supreme Court, contending his fifth amendment rights were violated.

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