In a recent case handled by our attorneys, police arrested a suspect and told his family that he would be questioned about criminal allegations at the local police station. The family, concerned about what the suspect might say, tried to prohibit the police from questioning the suspect by telling police that the suspect “does not want to be questioned” and he “wants a lawyer”. Despite the family’s pleas, the police proceeded with the questioning of the suspect at the police station. Unfortunately, because of the police questioning, the suspect eventually made inconsistent and incriminating statements that drastically affected the outcome of his case.
Even though seemingly unfair, the police are not required to abide by the family’s attempt to invoke the suspect’s Miranda right to counsel. Under the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court established “Miranda Rights” that include the right of a suspect to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present during an interrogation. In addition to those rights, the Miranda Court specified that if a suspect requests an attorney during questioning, the police must immediately cease and the questioning may not resume until the suspect has had an opportunity to consult with an attorney and have him or her present during the interrogation.
Because Miranda rights are personal to the suspect, they cannot be invoked on behalf of the suspect by family or by an attorney who is not present with the suspect in custody. And, when the suspect invokes his Miranda right to counsel, his request must be clear, unambiguous and unequivocal. If the suspect’s attempt to invoke his Miranda right to counsel is unclear or ambiguous, police are not obligated to ask the suspect any clarifying questions to determine whether the suspect wants an attorney. Rather, police can continue their questioning of the suspect as if his request for counsel was never made.
Finally, should police interpret a suspect’s request for counsel incorrectly, and thereby continue their questioning, competent counsel will call upon the Court to determine whether a suspect’s attempt to invoke his Miranda right to counsel was clear and unambiguous. And, while these challenges may ultimately protect a suspect from incriminating responses to police questioning, the Supreme Court’s message in cases involving the invocation of the Miranda right to counsel is clear: a suspect who does not clearly assert his right to counsel will lose it.
If someone you know has been charged with a crime and he or she was subject to police questioning, feel free to contact the experienced attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers for a free consultation at our office.