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Davis v. United States - 512 U.S. 452, 114 S. Ct. 2350 (1994)

Rule:

The applicability of the "rigid prophylactic rule" of Edwards v. Arizona requires courts to determine whether the accused actually invoked his right to counsel. To avoid difficulties of proof and to provide guidance to officers conducting interrogations, this is an objective inquiry. Invocation of the Miranda right to counsel requires, at a minimum, some statement that can reasonably be construed to be an expression of a desire for the assistance of an attorney. But if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel, judicial precedents do not require the cessation of questioning.

Facts:

With respect to the Federal Constitution's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, the Supreme Court of United States, in Edwards v. Arizona, announced a rule to the effect that law enforcement officers must immediately cease questioning a suspect who, having received the Miranda warnings and having waived the rights to remain silent and to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, later clearly asserts the Miranda right to counsel. Defendant Robert Davis, a member of the United States Navy and who was a suspect in a murder, was interviewed at a Naval Investigative Service (NIS) office and, after being warned of his rights to remain silent and to have counsel, waived his rights to remain silent and to counsel. About 1 1/2 hours into the interview, Davis made the remark, "Maybe I should talk to a lawyer," whereupon the interviewing NIS agents attempted to clarify what he meant. Davis said that he was not asking for a lawyer and did not want a lawyer, and, after Davis was reminded of his rights to remain silent and to have counsel, the interview continued for another hour, after which Davis said that he thought he wanted a lawyer before he said anything else, and the questioning ceased. At Davis' subsequent court-martial for the murder, he filed a motion to suppress statements made during the interview, but a military judge denied the motion and expressed the view that: (1) Davis' remark that maybe he should talk to a lawyer was not in the form of a request for counsel; and (2) the NIS agents properly determined that Davis was not invoking his right to counsel. Davis was convicted of unpremeditated murder and received a sentence which included confinement for life. The convening authority approved the findings and sentence, and the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Military Review affirmed in an unpublished opinion. The United States Court of Military Appeals, in affirming, expressed the view that Davis' remark that maybe he should talk to a lawyer was ambiguous; and the NIS agents properly clarified Davis' wishes with respect to counsel before continuing to question him about the offense. Davis was granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Did the lower courts properly rule that Davis' statements made during the interview were not subject to suppression based on the ground that he made the statements after he Requested for the assistance of a counsel?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States held that equivocal requests or comments regarding an attorney did not require questioning officers to stop interrogation so that counsel could be present and that questioning could continue unless a suspect actually requested an attorney. According to the Court, if a reference was ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel, Edwards v. Arizona did not require that officers stop questioning the suspect. The Court opined that extending Edwards to create such a requirement would transform the Miranda safeguards into wholly irrational obstacles to legitimate investigative activity by needlessly preventing the police from questioning a suspect in the absence of an attorney, even if the suspect did not wish to have one present. The Court affirmed the judgment of the United States Court of Military Appeals.

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