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High Court Loosens Rule On Questioning Suspects

Publication Date: 
February 25, 2010
National Public Radio (NPR)
Nina Totenberg

Professor Jeffrey Fisher, an expert in criminal procedure, is quoted on the Supreme Court's decision on repeat questioning of suspects without a lawyer. Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court has created a new rule governing the repeat questioning of suspects without a lawyer.

Until now, if a suspect refused to talk without an attorney, police were supposed to leave him alone. Once the suspect was released, it was not clear whether police could make a second attempt at interrogation or how long they had to wait. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court set a bright line of 14 days. After that, police have to readvise a suspect of his rights, but if this time they can get him to talk without his lawyer, the confession can be admitted in court.

The Supreme Court's decision came in the case of a Maryland man name Michael Shatzer, who was in prison for an unrelated crime when police first tried to talk to him about allegations that he had sexually abused his 3-year-old son. When police advised Shatzer of his right to remain silent and to have a lawyer, he refused to talk and asked for a lawyer. Police didn't contact him again.


Stanford law professor Jeffrey Fisher says the decision illustrates how the court has moved away from worrying about the coercion of suspects. A generation ago, he says, the court would likely have been closely divided on this question. "It just shows how far to the right the constitutional jurisprudence has moved, at least in this field," said Fisher.