Other Criminal Procedure Cases

In four other cases, the justices reaffirmed and clarified the Miranda rule, that police must tell suspects of their rights before interrogating them. In the first case, Fellers v. United States, a unanimous Court speaking through Justice O'Connor, said that police could not question suspects, even those had had already been indicted for the crime, without advising them of their constitutional right to have a lawyer present. Nebraska police "deliberately elicited" incriminating statements from John Fellers, an alleged dope trafficker, when they arrested him at his home.  Since Fellers was already under federal indictment, his right to a lawyer under the Sixth Amendment was in effect, and he could be interrogated by state or local police only if he waived the right to have his lawyer there. The Court did not, however, deal with another question of whether statements later made by Feller at the jailhouse, when he had waived his lawyer's presence, could be used, since those questions derived from his first set of incriminating statements.  The case now returns to lower court where that issue will be resolved.

In the second case, the Court by a 5-4 vote held that police officers may not deliberately avoid warning suspects of their right to remain silent before beginning questioning. The Court denounced a police tactic of interrogating suspects twice -- once before reading them their Miranda rights and then again after.  Writing for the majority in Missour v. Siebert, Justice Souter said that a Missouri woman's statements about her involvement in a murder plot were inadmissible, because police had arrested her at three o'clock in the morning, elicited a confession, and only then advised her of her rights.  She subsequently incriminated herself again. In effect the decision establishes a right to remain silent, and is a logical development from recent cases reaffirming the Miranda decision.

In the third case, United States v. Patane, a 5-4 majority ruled that physical evidence gathered as a result of a suspect's statement made without a Miranda warning did not have to be excluded from a trial. A federal agent began advising Samuel Patane of his rights when Patane, a convicted felon, interrupted, declaring that he knew his rights.  He then directed the agent on where to find a pistol.  Later Patane sought to have the gun excluded from evidence at his trial.

Justice Thomas said that excluding physical evidence from an unwarned statement would be an unlawful extension of Miranda, but only Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia joined the opinion. Justice Kennedy, joined by O'Connor, concurred in the result but not in the reasoning, thus depriving the case of a specific constitutional rule.

While civil liberties advocated praised the Siebert ruling for ending the double-questioning of suspects, at the same time they worried about the results of the Patane decision, since it could be interpreted to mean that police could avoid Miranda if they were seeking physical evidence, the position warned about by the four dissenters. "It's a very mixed message," according to Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "On the one hand, the Court has wisely closed the door on police strategies designed to induce improper confessions.  On the other hand, the Court may be encouraging similar strategies in cases where they care less about a confession and more about the evidence they can obtain through a coerced confession."  While a coerced confession could be thrown out, apparently any evidence resulting from it could stay.

In the fourth Miranda case, a 5-4 majority split over whether police had to take extra care when questioning juveniles about crime. The case, Yarborough v. Alvarado, resulted when police interrogated Michael Alvarado, then 17, for more than two hours at a police station while his parents were forced to wait outside. Eventually Alvarado confessed to taking part in a murder at a shopping mall in Santa Fe Springs, California, and was sentenced to a term of 15 years to life. Police contended that they did not have to tell Alvarado his rights because he was not in custody and could have left the station.  The narrow decision by Justice Kennedy only held that the Court had never said that police had to make special concessions to younger suspects under Miranda. The police claim, that Alvarado could leave anytime he wanted, made no sense to the four dissenters.  "A reasonable person would not have thought that he was free simply to pick up and leave in the middle of the interrogation," wrote Justice Breyer for himself and justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg.

Some commentators wonder whether the line-up in the Alvarado case is a prelude to how the Court will respond when it takes up the constitutionality of executing underage killers in the October 2004 Term.

While suspects may refuse to talk to police without an attorney present, no one, it appears, has the right to remain silent if the police ask your name. The case, Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court, grew out of a 2000 incident when a deputy sheriff stopped near Larry "Dudley" Hiibel's truck on a rural Nevada road. The police officer was investigating a passing motorist's report that a man in the truck had been hitting a woman. Hiibel's adult daughter was sitting in the truck. The deputy, Lee Dove, asked Hiibel eleven times for identification, and Hiibel, saying he had done nothing wrong, refused to give his name and challenged Dove to arrest him, which he eventually did. (The incident, captured on videotape by a camera in the squad car, is available at

Hiibel was subsequently convicted for violating a state law making it a misdemeanor to refuse to identify oneself if stopped by a police officer based on "reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing. In 1968 the Supreme Court, in the landmark ruling of Terry v. Ohio, gave police authority to briefly detain, question, and conduct a pat-down search of someone whose activities gave rise to a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. Given the passing motorist's report of violence, there is no doubt that deputy sheriff Dove's attempted investigation constituted a "Terry stop." About twenty states have laws similar in one way or another to that of Nevada.

By a 5-4 vote, the Court said that no constitutional right exists to simply refuse to give one's name to a police officer when asked. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy noted that "asking questions is an essential part of police investigation. In the ordinary course a police officer is free to ask a person for identification without implicating the Fourth Amendment." Kennedy conceded that the ruling left the door open for the unusual case in which revealing a name would in fact be incriminating. But generally, disclosing an identity is "so insignificant in the scheme of things," a sentiment not shared by privacy advocacy groups that condemned the decision.

In a Fourth Amendment case, a unanimous Court ruled that the Constitution does not require that police officers wait more than 15 to 20 seconds after they knock and announce their authority before breaking down a suspected drug dealer's door. North Las Vegas police officers and FBI agents arrived to serve a search warrant on LaShawn Lowell Banks, a suspected drug dealer. They knocked on the door to his apartment, announced who they were, and after waiting between 15 and 20 seconds and hearing no response, broke down the front door with a battering ram.  They found Banks, dripping wet, outside his shower.  The masked officers handcuffed and took him to the kitchen, still naked, for interrogation. During their search they found crack cocaine, a scale, and several firearms.

Speaking for the Court Justice Souter wrote that although "this call is a close one, we think that after 15 or 20 seconds without a response, police could fairly suspect that cocaine would be gone if they were reticent any longer." The decision does not add to the wide exceptions the Court has carved out for "no knock" entries when the police have good reason to think they would be putting themselves at risk by waiting, or that evidence could be destroyed imminently. This case dealt with what constituted a reasonable amount of time that police should wait before forcibly entering a premise, and the Court adopted essentially a common sense approach. As Souter observed, police searching for a stolen piano need not hurry for fear it might be flushed down a drain, but drugs are a different story.

In a Sixth Amendment Case, the Court dealt with an issue that comes before it only rarely, defendants' right at trial to be confronted by witnesses against them. In a case that had been closely watched by both prosecutors and defense lawyers, the Court unanimously set aside the conviction of Michael D. Crawford of Olympia, Washington, who had been serving a 14-year sentence for stabbing a man who he apparently believed had tried to rape his wife.

The case began in 1999 when Crawford and his wife went to find Kenneth Lee at his apartment.  The two men argued and fought, and Sylvia Crawford saw Michael Crawford get a cut on his hand that required 12 stitches to close, while he seriously wounded Lee, stabbing him in the stomach. Sylvia did not testify at Crawford's trial, but prosecutors did play a tape to support their claim that her story did not match that of her husband.  Michael Crawford's lawyers did not have an opportunity to cross-examine his wife.

"That alone is sufficient to make out a violation of the Sixth Amendment," Justice Scalia wrote for a unanimous Court in Crawford v. Washington. While all nine justices agree to overturn the conviction and return the case to a lower court for retrial, seven of them also overturned an earlier 1980 case that laid out complex rules for when statements can be used without the opportunity for cross-examination. According to Scalia, the earlier case, Ohio v. Roberts, needlessly complicated a fairly straightforward part of the Constitution. "By replacing categorical constitutional guarantees with open-ended balancing tests, we do violence to their design. Vague standards are manipulable," he wrote. While that "might be a small concern in run-of-the-mill assault prosecutions like this one," the Framers had in mind the darker specter of state trials such as that of Sir Walter Raleigh in 17th century England. According to Scalia, Raleigh demanded that the judges "call my accusers before my face," but they refused and sentenced Raleigh to death for treason. Alluding to the 1980 case, Scalia concluded that "Dispensing with confrontation because testimony is obviously reliable is akin to dispensing with jury trial because a defendant is obviously guilty.  That is not what the Sixth Amendment prescribes."

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