Missouri V. Seibert: The Multifactor Test Should Be Replaced with a Bright-Line Warning Rule to Strengthen Miranda's Clarity

Article excerpt

Miranda v. Arizona,1 one of the most widely known Supreme Court decisions,2 has been the source of much controversy since its inception.3 Miranda requires the police to tell a suspect in custody that she has the right to remain silent and the right to the assistance of counsel during the interrogation.4 Furthermore, Miranda states that any response to police questioning is inadmissible unless the police obtain a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of those rights.5 Although the Miranda Court "indicated that it was adopting stringent waiver requirements,"6 the Court in post-Miranda cases did not strictly adhere to this decision.7 In post-Miranda cases, the Supreme Court established a number of exceptions to Miranda's warning and waiver rules8 that effectively weakened Miranda's impact on law enforcement.9 Consequently, interrogators found ways to circumvent the protections provided by the Miranda warnings.10 Recently, in Missouri v. Seibert,11 the Supreme Court analyzed the "question-first" interrogation technique used by police to circumvent Miranda,12 and held that the petitioner's confession obtained by the use of this strategy was inadmissible at trial.13

Petitioner Patrice Seibert alleged that her statements to the police should be suppressed because her Miranda rights had been violated due to improper police interrogation techniques.14 Seibert was arrested for helping to plan an arson fire that lead to the death of a seventeen-year-old family friend.15 Employing a two-step interrogation technique, called the "question-first" tactic, the police did not give Seibert her Miranda warnings until they obtained from her an initial confession.16 After eliciting a confession, a police officer gave Seibert her Miranda warnings and obtained from her a signed waiver of rights.17 The officer requestioned the petitioner and had her repeat her initial statements in order to obtain a "mirandized" confession that could be admitted as evidence at trial.18 Seibert argued that the "question-first" interrogation strategy used by the police violated her Miranda rights, and therefore, her "mirandized" confession should be deemed inadmissible at trial.19 The Supreme Court of the United States agreed with Seibert, concluding that Seibert's post-warning statements were inadmissible at trial because the warnings given to her did not serve their purpose.20

Writing for the plurality, Justice Souter explained that Seibert's post-warning confession was inadmissible because the Miranda warnings did not "adequately and effectively"21 advise Seibert of her rights.22 Using a multifactor test,23 the Court reached its decision by examining the circumstances of Seibert's interrogation.24 The Court concluded, in consideration of these circumstances, that the Miranda warnings in Seibert's case were not effective because a reasonable person in Seibert's shoes would not have understood her rights.25 Therefore, the Court held that Seibert's post-warning statements were inadmissible at trial.26

In his concurrence, Justice Kennedy agreed with the plurality that Seibert's post-warning statements were inadmissible at trial.27 Nonetheless, he rejected the multifactor test that the Court used to reach this decision.28 Justice Kennedy argued that because the multifactor test requires lower courts to assess the circumstances surrounding every two-step interrogation,29 this test would serve to undermine Miranda's clarity.30 Consequently, Justice Kennedy proposed an alternative solution limited to intentional two-step interrogations only.31 Justice Kennedy explained that if police deliberately employ a two-step interrogation strategy, any post-warning statements relating to the substance of the pre-warning statements "must be excluded unless curative measures are taken before the postwarning statement is made."32 Justice Kennedy suggested that an additional warning may suffice as one type of curative measure.33

It is submitted that although the ultimate conclusion in Seibert is correct, the multifactor test that the Court devised should be replaced with a "bright-line" warning rule. …