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SJC decision in Commonwealth v. Hearns addresses invocation of Miranda Rights

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently found that a Boston police officer during a murder investigation did not honor the defendant invocation of his right to remain silent. The Court found that the defendant invoked his right to remain silent and that the officer continued to question the defendant in hopes to persuade him to talk. Consequently, the Court suppressed the statements at trial.

In Commonwealth v. Hearns, decided April 8, 2014, the defendant was indicted in a gang related shooting. He went to the police station and was told that the Boston police had put together a strong case. The defendant admitted to being a gang member but denied being involved in any feud. The defendant asked the officers can you tell me how these cases go together; the officer responded that is something we will discuss in court. The defendant stated then, I do not want to talk. I got nothing to say. The officer than implied that the shooting may have been an accident at which time the defendant responded that he did not shoot anyone. The officer continued to ask questions until the defendant said if I am under arrest take me away. The full Hearns decision can be found by following this link.

Decision of the Massachusetts Highest Court

The SJC found that the defendant

  • clearly invoked his right to remain silent when he stated that he did not want to talk and had nothing to say.

The SJC held that:

  • If the officer was confused about the defendant’s intent; he would have to ask clarifying questions to determine the defendant’s intent.
  • Instead, the Court found that the officer was trying to persuade the defendant to talk. The Court rejected the Commonwealth’s argument that the defendant was in a negotiation ploy as the officer clearly rejected the request to outline the case against the defendant at which time the defendant invoked his right to remain silent.

    Questions of whether statements are admissible at a criminal trial often come up. One task of a criminal defense lawyer is to determine what evidence can be admitted at trial and file motions to limit the Commonwealth’s case. For more information about the Hearns case, the Suffolk Law School websites has an excellent quality video of the oral arguments at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

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