Reporting from Washington — A crime suspect who invokes his "right to remain silent" under the famous Miranda decision can be questioned again after 14 days, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. And if he freely agrees to talk then, his incriminatory statements can be used against him.
In a 9-0 decision in a Maryland child-abuse case, the high court overturned a strict rule set in 1981 that barred police from questioning a suspect once he had asked to remain silent and to speak with a lawyer. Known as the "Edwards rule," it was intended to prevent investigators from "badgering" a suspect who was held in jail after he had invoked his Miranda rights. In some cases, police had awakened a suspect in the middle of the night and asked him again to waive his rights and to admit to a crime.
Although that rule makes sense for suspects who are held in jail, it does not make sense for suspects who have gone free, the justices said Wednesday. In recent years, it has been understood to prevent police from ever re-questioning a freed suspect, even for other crimes in other places.
"In a country that harbors a large number of repeat offenders, the consequence" of the no-further-questioning rule "is disastrous," said Justice Antonin Scalia.
If there has been a "break in custody" and the suspect has gone free, Scalia said the police should be allowed to speak with him after some period of time. "It seems to us that period is 14 days," he said. "That provides plenty of time for the suspect to get re-acclimated to his normal life (and) to consult with friends and counsel."
Then, if the suspect waives his rights and agrees to talk, any statement he makes can be used against him, the court said.
The ruling in Maryland vs. Shatzer reinstates a child-abuse conviction against a Maryland man who made incriminatory statements to a state investigator 2 1/2 years after he had first been questioned by police. At that time, Michael Statzer refused to talk without first consulting a lawyer. Later, however, he had been sent to state prison on another, unrelated charge.
When a new investigator asked him about the original allegation, he agreed to speak and admitted abusing his son. However, he later won a ruling from the Maryland courts that said his statements could not be used against him because he had been questioned without his lawyer.
The high court overturned the Maryland court's decision and ruled that Shatzer's incriminatory statements could be used to convict him of child abuse.