New Mexico v. Herring may clarify law on waiver of Miranda rights for Massachusetts criminal attorneys

As a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, the issue surrounding Miranda rights often arises in felony and misdemeanor cases. Recently, in the case of New Mexico vs. Herring, a defendant successfully argued at appeal that they did not understand the Miranda rights read to them by a detective during a custodial interrogation. This case in particular brings up several issues of Miranda rights that may be further explored in the United States Supreme Court. You can read the filing from the Herring case on the Scotus Blog.

The defendant was held in custodial interrogation for the death of her 3-year-old child. T
The defendant argued that prior to her interrogation, the detective read her Miranda rights in such a hurried and garbled manner that it was unintelligible and therefore she did not understand them. The State argued that the respondent never indicated any difficulty understanding her rights because she indicted she was familiar with Miranda rights from “television” and that she further implied agreement by proceeding to talk with the detective for 5 hours after her rights were given. During this time she admitted to the detective that prior to her son’s death she “slapped him twice and punched him in the head with a closed fist.”

Upon the court’s review of the recordings of the interrogation, it was found that the entire reading of the Miranda rights by the detective totaled 17 seconds. The stenographic court reporter that transcribed the DVD of the warning couldn’t understand the detective either, and the court had to listen to the DVD of the warning given three times. The final time the court needed a reading copy of the detective’s advice of rights card along with the DVD before the language could be understood.

The district judge concluded that the defendant “did not make a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of her rights pursuant to the requirements of the New Mexico Constitution and the United States Constitution because she was not advised of such rights in a manner she could have understood.”

This was affirmed by the New Mexico Supreme Court in an unreported decision. The New Mexico Supreme Court further stated that the fact the detective read the rights in such a garbled and hurried indicated he cared more about getting the “legal technicality” out of the way vs. ensuring the defendant understood her rights before continuing.

The State however, further argues that officers are not required to advise suspects about the fifth right, relying on the Berghuis v. Thompkins, 130 S.Ct 2250 (2010) holding that when asserting a knowing waiver, it is based on the giving of advice, an express statement of understanding, a decision to speak, and no evidence contradicting the statement of understanding.

This case is currently seeking review in the Supreme Court. If reviewed, the ruling may provide further clarification on the federal view of what responsibilities officers may or may not have in ensuring defendants understand the Miranda rights when given.

As a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, it is important when counseling clients to inquire not only if their Miranda rights were given, but also how they were given. As this case demonstrates, if for any reason your client indicates they did not understand their rights, this may be argued in court and result in the statements being suppressed. In any criminal trial, statements of a defendant are always a key piece of evidence for the Commonwealth.

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