Michigan Supreme Court Holds Miranda Rights Waiver Valid

On June 23rd, 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court held in a criminal case that a suspect's reinitiation of a conversation with police about his crime, after the suspect initially invoked his Miranda rights, and his subsequent waiver of his Miranda rights does not violate the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination.

In People v  Tanner, Docket No. 146211, the Michigan Supreme Court addressed an appeal in a criminal case where the issue centered around whether the prosecution could use defendant's jailhouse statements against him after defendant initially invoked his Miranda rights.

From the opinion's syllabus:

George R. Tanner was charged with open murder, MCL 750.316, and mutilation of a dead body, MCL 750.160, in the Livingston Circuit Court. After his arrest, he was taken to jail and read his rights under Miranda v Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966). Defendant invoked his right to counsel and questioning ceased. The next day, while speaking with a jail psychologist, defendant stated that he wanted to “get something off of his chest.” The psychologist informed jail staff of defendant’s request. The jail administrator then spoke with defendant. Defendant told the administrator that he wanted to speak with someone about his case and asked if the administrator could obtain an attorney for him. The administrator stated that he could not provide an attorney for defendant, but could contact the police officers who were handling the case. Defendant agreed. The administrator then contacted both the police and the prosecutor. The prosecutor apparently informed the court of defendant’s request for an attorney, and the court sent an attorney to the jail. After the attorney and the police officers arrived at the jail, the jail administrator took the police officers to speak with defendant and asked the attorney to wait in the jail lobby while the officers determined defendant’s intentions. Defendant was again read his Miranda rights, which he waived without again requesting an attorney and without being made aware of the attorney’s presence at the jail. Defendant then made incriminating statements concerning his involvement in the murder. Defense counsel moved to suppress the statements, and the court, David J. Reader, J., granted the motion. The prosecution sought leave to appeal. The Court of Appeals denied the application. The prosecution then sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, which granted the application. 493 Mich 958 (2013).

In an opinion by Justice MARKMAN, joined by Chief Justice YOUNG and Justices KELLY, ZAHRA, and VIVIANO, the Supreme Court held:

Once it is determined that a suspect’s decision not to rely on his or her rights was uncoerced, that at all times the suspect knew he or she could stand mute and request a lawyer, and that the suspect was aware of the state’s intent to use the suspect’s statements to secure a conviction, the analysis is complete and a waiver of those rights is valid as a matter of law, overruling People v Bender, 452 Mich 594 (1996).

1. Under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 17 of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution, no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself. In Miranda, the United States Supreme Court held that the accused must be given a series of warnings before being subjected to custodial interrogation in order to protect the constitutional right against self-incrimination. A suspect’s waiver of the Miranda rights must be made voluntarily, intelligently, and knowingly.

2. In Moran v Burbine, 475 US 412 (1986), the United States Supreme Court held that the failure of the police to inform a suspect of the efforts of an attorney to reach the suspect does not deprive the suspect of his or her right to counsel or otherwise invalidate a Miranda waiver. Michigan’s Supreme Court reached a different conclusion in Bender, holding that for a suspect’s Miranda waiver to be made knowingly and intelligently, the police must promptly inform the suspect that an attorney is available when that attorney has made contact with them. Article 1, § 17 of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution concerns compelled statements. At the time of the Constitution’s ratification, the word “compelled” was commonly understood to refer to the use of coercion, violence, force, or pressure. Accordingly, Article 1, § 17 can be reasonably understood to protect a suspect from the use of his or her involuntary incriminating statements. The language of Article 1, § 17 does not support the decision reached in Bender, which pertained not to whether a statement was made voluntarily, but whether it was made knowingly. The lead and majority opinions in Bender engaged in an unfounded creation of constitutional rights.

3. Prior Michigan caselaw did not foreshadow or otherwise provide support for Bender’s per se exclusionary rule. Before Bender, the Michigan Supreme Court examined the effect of an attorney’s attempts to contact a suspect on the admissibility of the suspect’s confession in People v Cavanaugh, 246 Mich 680 (1929), and People v Wright, 441 Mich 140 (1992). Neither decision supported Bender’s assertion that Michigan courts have historically interpreted Michigan’s Self-Incrimination Clause to provide criminal suspects with greater protections than those afforded by the Fifth Amendment. Rather, under Michigan law before Miranda, voluntariness constituted the sole criterion for a confession to be admissible under either the Due Process Clause or Michigan’s Self-Incrimination Clause.

4. Although Michigan’s Supreme Court need not interpret a provision of the Michigan Constitution in the same manner as a similar or identical federal constitutional provision, the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment in Moran constitutes the proper interpretation of Article I, § 17 as well. Full comprehension of Miranda rights is sufficient to dispel whatever coercion is inherent in the interrogation process, and the waiver of those rights cannot be affected by events that are unknown and unperceived, such as the fact that an attorney is available to offer assistance.

5. The application of stare decisis is generally the preferred course, but the Court is not constrained to follow precedent when governing decisions are “unworkable or []badly reasoned.” Overruling Bender would not produce practical real-world dislocations, and less injury would result from overruling it than from maintaining it.

6. In this case, defendant was read his Miranda rights and invoked his right to counsel, but then reinitiated contact with the police when he indicated that he wanted to “get something off of his chest.” He was again afforded his Miranda rights, and waived them, choosing not to reassert his right to counsel. Defendant’s lack of awareness of the appointed attorney’s presence at the jail did not invalidate his Miranda waiver. Therefore, the trial court erred by suppressing defendant’s incriminating statements.

Reversed and remanded.