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Murder suspect's request for a lawyer should have ended interrogation

Generally, once a suspect requests an attorney, an interrogation should end.
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    February 28, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Murder suspect's request for a lawyer should have ended interrogation

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A suspect being questioned by police has the right to remain silent, as well as the right to the presence of an attorney during the questioning. Generally, once a suspect requests an attorney, an interrogation should end.

That is not what happened in the murder case of Commonwealth v. Santos, as explained by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

A suspect requests a lawyer during an interrogation

A young male was shot and killed in front of many witnesses, although none of the witnesses could identify a suspect. Later, a man who had earlier purchased drugs from the man informed police investigators that he had seen the defendant standing on a corner near the shooting. The police wished to question the defendant as a witness, but when the police discovered that the defendant had outstanding warrants, they arrested him on that basis.

The defendant agreed to speak to the police about the shooting and received his Miranda warnings, which explained his rights during the questioning. After answering questions for nearly an hour, the defendant refused to answer a question regarding the vehicle used in the attempted robbery and asked for a lawyer. The officers continued the interrogation for approximately three more minutes, then left the room in response to a knock on the interrogation door.

When the officer returned, he clarified that the defendant had asked for a lawyer because he was being questioned about the car. When the officer then shifted to other topics, the defendant continued to answer questions.

At trial, the defendant moved to suppress the statements he had made after he requested a lawyer, but the trial judge denied the motion. After the defendant was convicted of murder and robbery, he appealed.

Should the interrogation have stopped?

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the defendant had made a clear invocation of his right to remain silent when, in response to questions about the car used in the robbery, he said, "I'm not going on with this conversation" and "I want a lawyer." The defendant's statement was not musing out loud or wondering; it was simply the reason he wanted a lawyer.

Although the fact the defendant kept speaking after invoking his right might have created reasonable uncertainty in the police, that only justified a brief clarifying question on whether the defendant did, indeed, want a lawyer. The questions posed by the officers after returning to the interrogation room were not clarifying and were designed to elicit further statements from the defendant.

Therefore, the defendant's statements should have been suppressed, and the error was not harmless. The defendant's criminal convictions were reversed and a new trial ordered.

Have an attorney by your side during questioning

If you are accused of a crime, you should not make any statements without a criminal defense attorney by your side. Seek representation from a lawyer with extensive experience in all stages of criminal proceedings, from the interrogation room to the courtroom.

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