Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decides Miranda Rights Case, Can a Person Re-Invoke Their Right to Have an Attorney Present?
Many of us know from film and television that we have the right to remain silent after being arrested. This is one part of our Miranda rights. But what happens when we revoke those rights and then attempt to re-invoke them? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court examined this issue in Commonwealth v. Edward Gonzalez.
What happened in the Gonzalez case?
On May 26th, 2016 in Springfield, Edward Gonzales was arrested on charges of murder in the first degree and possession of a firearm without a license. The alleged shooting had taken place in a backyard in January of that year. The victim was the father of a state trooper. Gonzales was named by an alleged codefendant in the crime, and the interview with the co-defendant was the only basis for the arrest of Gonzales. Shortly after Gonzales was in custody, police interviewed him in the interrogation room at the Springfield police department shortly after he was arrested.
Gonzales was arrested very late at night, and police attempted to interview him around 2:00 in the morning. Gonzales’s primary language is Spanish, and he was assigned a Spanish-speaking detective. Gonzales initially decided to waive his Miranda rights and speak with police. His Miranda rights were read to him in English despite having a Spanish-speaking detective. Although both Gonzales and the detective spoke Spanish, most of the interview was conducted in English, which Gonzales had difficulty understanding and comprehending. Twenty minutes after the interview began, he requested to have an attorney present four times until the detective ended the interview. Gonzales remained in the interview room for forty-five minutes and then again waived his rights and agreed to speak with officers. He was interviewed again for around one hour starting at around 3:00 in the morning and ending around 4:00 in the morning.
At trial, Gonzales sought to suppress all of the statements he made to law enforcement. The trial court allowed him to suppress all the statements he made after having invoked his right to counsel. The trial court concluded that the State had not established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant re-initiated the interview and knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right of counsel.
In most courts, including Massachusetts courts, the judge has decision in deciding what evidence comes in and stays out of trial. The judge can assess the weight and credibility of testimonial evidence which includes inferences derived from the reasonability of the testimony. The appellate courts on review are supposed to look for errors in the law but are to give deference to the trial judge’s decision.
The trial court judge found that the interview was aggressive, and the detective was frustrated and angry when Gonzales invoked his right to have an attorney present. Further, the trial judge found that the State failed to meet its burden to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant re-initiated the conversation with police. He found that the detective’s presence in the interrogation room and his general conversations with Gonzales were designed to effect Gonzales’s decision to speak to police without an attorney present. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the trial judge made no error in his findings regarding the motion to suppress and agreed with the lower court.
Ultimately, the Supreme Judicial Court likely made the right decision in this case. Miranda rights, which highly publicized in film and television, are difficult to understand while under the intense pressure of being interrogated by police. A defendant should not be coerced or threatened into giving up their rights. It is always a good idea to exercise your right to remain silent and to always wait to have an attorney present before speaking with law enforcement.
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