Miranda Update: Fifth Amendment Protection and Break in Custody

Article excerpt

Because of the great value a statement obtained from a defendant has in a criminal prosecution, the government will invariably face a challenge to its admissibility. The most recognized challenge, to both law enforcement and the public at large, is an alleged violation of the Fifth Amendment protection adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona. (1) While this challenge is well-known and over four decades old, its precise contours still are being established. Over the years, the Supreme Court has decided cases in which it reexamined the applicability and scope of Miranda. Now is one of those times. The purpose of this article is to discuss the recent decision of Maryland v. Shatzer, (2) where the Supreme Court ruled upon the legal significance and definition of a break in custody in terms of the Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination (Miranda). Law enforcement officers must have an understanding of this decision and its holding given its impact on their ability to engage in interrogation during various stages of a criminal investigation.

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Prior Relevant Case Law

To best understand the significance of Maryland v. Shatzer, it is important to provide a brief overview of previous Fifth Amendment case law. In Miranda v. Arizona, (3) the Supreme Court created a set of measures to protect a defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination by requiring law enforcement officers to provide certain warnings and obtain a waiver from a defendant prior to custodial interrogation. (4) The rationale behind the Miranda rule is to protect a defendant from the "inherently compelling pressures" (5) and the "police-dominated atmosphere" (6) of custodial interrogation. In Miranda, the Court created two basic prophylactic measures to protect a defendant's Fifth Amendment rights: the right to silence and the right to counsel. (7) When law enforcement provides the warnings required by Miranda, a defendant may relinquish these rights through a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver or may invoke one or both of the rights. (8)

In subsequent cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that once a defendant invokes the Fifth Amendment right to counsel, (9) any current interrogation must cease and the defendant may not be subjected to further police-initiated custodial interrogation unless counsel is present. (10) This second layer of protection, often referred to as the Edwards (11) rule, creates a presumption that once a suspect invokes the Fifth Amendment right to counsel, any waiver of that right in response to a subsequent police-initiated attempt at custodial interrogation is involuntary. (12) The rationale behind the Edwards rule is that after the invocation of the right to counsel, "any subsequent waiver that has come at the authorities' behest, and not at the suspect's own instigation, is itself the product of the 'inherently compelling pressures' and not the purely voluntary choice of the suspect." (13)

It also must be remembered that this two-layered Fifth Amendment protection in Miranda and Edwards is not crime specific. Once a defendant invokes the Fifth Amendment right to counsel for one offense, the defendant may not be subjected to police-initiated interrogation regarding any offense while remaining in custody unless counsel is present. (14)

To date, lower courts uniformly have held that the Edwards protection ends with a break in custody. (15) While not specifically ruling on the issue, the Supreme Court in McNeil v. Wisconsin (16) used language (in dicta) indicating that the Edwards protection applies "assuming there is no break in custody." (17) In Maryland v. Shatzer, (18) the Supreme Court expressly ruled on this issue. In addition, in this case, the Court also addressed the impact of incarceration following a conviction--as opposed to pretrial custody--on the break-in-custody analysis. In other words, the Court decided whether a defendant who is serving time in a prison setting is deemed in continuous custody as some lower courts have ruled. …