• email
  • share

New decision affecting Miranda: Maryland v. Shatzer

On February 24, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court came to a decision that will have long-lasting implications on police policy with respect to Miranda warnings.

The case, Maryland v. Shatzer, 08-680, examined whether a police investigation in Maryland was performed illegally when they re-interrogated a man suspected of sexual assault over two years after the first interrogation. At issue was if a break in one’s custodial state occurs after the individual has invoked his right to counsel, when, if at all, may police resume interrogating the suspect and not violate his or her right to counsel? In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the police did not violate the suspect’s right to an attorney and that 14 days is a sufficient amount of time to pass for one’s invocation of Miranda to end and for re-interrogation to take place.


In 2003, a Maryland social worker told police she suspected that Shatzer had forced his then 3-year-old son to perform sex on him. At the time this complaint was made, Shatzer was in state prison on an unrelated offense of molesting another child. When detectives met with him in jail, Shatzer invoked his Miranda right to an attorney and refused to talk. The interview ended.

Three years later, the social worker went back to police and said that Shatzer’s son was old enough to make specific allegations against the father. In March 2006, Shatzer was re-interviewed twice by officers, where he waived his right to an attorney before confessing to child molestation. Officials said that at no time did Shatzer request a lawyer. He was later convicted of second-degree sexual offense, sexual child abuse and second-degree assault, among other charges.


After Shatzer’s son was able to provide new evidence which led to the subsequent interviews, Shatzer admitted the abuse. He then tried to suppress the confession at his trial. A Maryland appeals court ruled that because Shatzer remained in jail the entire time police were investigating the child molestation claims, there was “no break in custody” by authorities that would allow incriminating evidence to be used from the second interrogation, when no lawyer was present. The Court of Appeals excluded the confession. The State appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision.

Prior to Shatzer, the Edwards rule provided that a suspect who invokes his right to counsel may not be further questioned until either his or her counsel has been made available or until the suspect further initiates exchanges with the police. Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378. The Supreme Court in Shatzer held that Edwards does not apply if (1) a break in custody lasting 14 days has occurred, and (2) the defendant’s return to the general prison population, after he had invoked his right to counsel during custodial interrogation regarding allegations of criminal conduct that were separate and apart from the conduct underlying the defendant’s convictions, constituted a break in custody.

In deciding how long a suspect’s constitutional right to invoke counsel should remain valid, Justice Scalia, who authored the opinion, stated that a two-week period after questioning is enough passage of time to satisfy, “any residual coercive effects of his prior custody.” The Justice explained that the 14-day time-frame provided, “plenty of time for the suspect to get reacclimated to his normal life, to consult with friends and counsel,” after being in custody. The opinion further held that the fact that Mr. Shatzer remained in prison, under state control, between the two interrogations did not mean there was no break in custody as defined in connection with this issue. “When sentenced prisoners are released back into the general prison population, they return to their accustomed surroundings and daily routine,” Scalia said. “They regain the degree of control they had over their lives prior to attempted interrogation.

What This Means

What Shatzer has done is to establish a bright-line rule in terms of when an individual’s right to invoke ends. Once a suspect invokes his or her right to counsel, the interrogation must cease immediately – that has not changed. What has changed, however, is that the officer may revisit the suspect and resume the interrogation after a two-week lapse, regardless of whether the suspect is in custody, as long as he or she is returned to the general prison population for a conviction unrelated to the subject of the interrogation.

For more information about the Maryland v. Shatzer decision and its impact on Miranda Rights, please contact Tricia Hynes.