Spring 2010-#6. Disrespecting Miranda: Vermont's Choice in State v. Fleurie.

Authorby Briana Collier

Vermont Bar Journal


Spring 2010-#6.

Disrespecting Miranda: Vermont's Choice in State v. Fleurie

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 36, No.1Spring 2010Disrespecting Miranda: Vermont's Choice in State v. Fleurieby Briana CollierIn State v. Fleurie,St. Johnsbury police officers questioned an eighteen-year-old young man for approximately forty minutes in his home about an armed robbery, eliciting from him incriminating statements.(fn1) He was arrested for a different violation, but not informed of why he was arrested.(fn2) In the police station, after the officers Mirandized him for the first time, Fleurie confessed to the robbery.(fn3) At trial, Fleurie moved to suppress both his pre- and post- warning statements as inadmissible.(fn4) The trial court allowed admission of his post-warning confession, which he then appealed.(fn5) On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the Miranda warning was effective and affirmed that the confession was admissible.(fn6) The court reasoned that, despite the pre-warning interrogation, Fleurie understood his rights as they were read to him and waived them voluntarily.(fn7) His initial admissions were not viewed to taint his later confession.(fn8)

State v. Fleurie, like many Miranda v. Arizona cases before it, disrespects Miranda's true purpose of protecting the defendant's right against self-incrimination from coercive police practices.(fn9) The court correctly applies the pieces of the recent Miranda-related plurality opinion, Missouri v. Siebert, which controls the effect of inappropriately elicited pre-warning statements on the admissibility of post-warning confessions.(fn10) However, Fleurie's conclusion ignores Siebert's admonishment of question-first police tactics.(fn11) In this way, Fleurie allows the police to undermine the rights of Vermont citizens. Furthermore, Fleurie perpetuates an ends-focused approach to enforcing Miranda that neither provides straightforward guidance for law enforcement nor helps to unify Miranda's disjointed and schizophrenic jurisprudence for the benefit of those interrogated.

This comment will address Fleurie in the context of the Miranda cases as a poor decision for Vermonters, Vermont police, and the integrity of the Vermont legal system. It will first provide background on Miranda and the Supreme Court's inability to build coherent Miranda jurisprudence due to its "Miranda-debilitating decisions."(fn12) Second, the comment will address the recent and important Miranda decision, Siebert, and its effect on question-first police interrogation tactics. Third, it will discuss the Vermont Supreme Court's failure to recognize the reverberations of question-first and other coercive police tactics on Vermonters' rights, as evidenced in Fleurie. Finally, this comment will touch on problems of Miranda jurisprudence and proposed solutions to the arguably unworkable Miranda rights. It will advocate a two-part starting point for change: first, that courts recognize the detriment of the mixed messages their decisions send law enforcement; and, second, that where possible, courts make future decisions that respect Miranda's purpose.

Background: The Miranda Cases

Miranda v. Arizona

In 1966, the then-liberal Supreme Court became upset at cases documenting police withholding of counsel and coercing suspects to confess.(fn13) These police actions were violations of the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and for protection of counsel set forth in the U.S. Constitution. For thirty years, the Court had protected the right against self-incrimination peripherally under the "due process voluntariness test," used to determine whether the statement made to police was voluntarily made.(fn14) This test "considered a confession voluntary if, under a totality of the circumstances, it was 'the product of a rational intellect and a free will' and the police had not overborne the free will of the suspect."(fn15) However, complaints about the voluntariness test frequently arose, such as "its inability to provide clear guidance for lower courts and law enforcement." The Court also feared that "the voluntariness test was not effective in regulating coercive interrogation tactics."(fn16)

Thus, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to Miranda v. Arizona "to give concrete constitutional guidelines for law enforcement agencies and courts to follow."(fn17) The result of this opinion was a set of warnings that police must communicate to suspects, now burned into our cultural lexicon: that the suspect has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for him.(fn18) The opinion also established that these rights must be available to the suspect at any time during interrogation, and that the suspect may "knowingly and intelligently waive these rights." Yet, unless the prosecution can establish valid warnings and waiver at trial, any statements a suspect makes during interrogation are inadmissible as evidence.(fn19) The court defined these safeguards as applying to "custodial interrogations," meaning any "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way."(fn20)

Miranda's purpose was to create a bright line test that would discourage police coercion in interrogation, as the Court had recognized for years that "the reliability of coerced confessions is suspect and there is a 'deep-rooted feeling that the police must obey the law while enforcing the law.'"(fn21) Miranda quoted prior decisions such as Olmstead v. U.S., which posited that "[c]rime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law,"(fn22) and a jurist who said "[t]he quality of a nation's civilization can be largely measured by the methods it uses in the enforcement of its criminal law."(fn23) Moreover, the decision referred to the right against self-incrimination as a "noble principle" and to "the respect a government ... must accord to the dignity and integrity of its citizens."(fn24) So the Court set the lofty goals of Miranda.

Elstad and Other "Miranda-Debilitating Decisions"

The lofty goals of Miranda were soon taken down several notches. The first step down came with Harris v. New York in 1971.(fn25) Harris decided that a suspect's statement after a defective Miranda warning, though not admissible as evidence, could be used for impeachment if he took the stand to defend himself. The Court followed this decision in 1975 with Oregon v. Hass, deciding that statements can be used for impeachment even if a defendant asserted his Miranda rights and they were denied.(fn26) In the 1974 Michigan v. Tucker decision, Justice Rehnquist said that Miranda rights were "procedural safeguards . not themselves rights protected by the Constitution."(fn27) In 1975, Michigan v. Mosley decided that after a suspect invokes the right to counsel, police may "try again" to interrogate him at a later time.(fn28) Oregon v....

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