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Law School Case Brief

Missouri v. Seibert - 542 U.S. 600, 124 S. Ct. 2601 (2004)


A simple failure to administer Miranda warnings, unaccompanied by any actual coercion or other circumstances calculated to undermine the suspect's ability to exercise his free will does not so taint the investigatory process that a subsequent voluntary and informed waiver is ineffective for some indeterminate period. Though Miranda requires that the unwarned admission must be suppressed, the admissibility of any subsequent statement should turn in these circumstances solely on whether it is knowingly and voluntarily made. A suspect who has once responded to unwarned yet uncoercive questioning is not thereby disabled from waiving his rights and confessing after he has been given the requisite Miranda warnings. In a sequential confession case, clarity is served if the later confession is approached by asking whether in the circumstances the Miranda warnings given could reasonably be found effective. If yes, a court can take up the standard issues of voluntary waiver and voluntary statement; if no, the subsequent statement is inadmissible for want of adequate Miranda warnings, because the earlier and later statements are realistically seen as parts of a single, unwarned sequence of questioning.


Respondent Seibert feared charges of neglect when her son, afflicted with cerebral palsy, died in his sleep. She was present when two of her sons and their friends discussed burning her family's mobile home to conceal the circumstances of her son's death. Donald, an unrelated mentally ill 18-year-old living with the family, was left to die in the fire, in order to avoid the appearance that Seibert's son had been unattended. Five days later, the police arrested Seibert, but did not read her her rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602. At the police station, Officer Hanrahan questioned her for 30 to 40 minutes, obtaining a confession that the plan was for Donald to die in the fire. He then gave her a 20-minute break, returned to give her Miranda warnings, and obtained a signed waiver. He resumed questioning, confronting Seibert with her pre-warning statements and getting her to repeat the information. Seibert moved to suppress both her pre-warning and post-warning statements. Hanrahan testified that he made a conscious decision to withhold Miranda warnings, question first, then give the warnings, and then repeat the question until he got the answer previously given. The district court suppressed the pre-warning statement but admitted the post-warning one, and Seibert was convicted of second-degree murder. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed, finding the case indistinguishable from Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 84 L. Ed. 2d 222, 105 S. Ct. 1285, wherein the Supreme Court held that a suspect's unwarned inculpatory statement made during a brief exchange at his house did not make a later, fully warned inculpatory statement inadmissible. In reversing, the Missouri Supreme Court held that, because the interrogation was nearly continuous, the second statement, which was clearly the product of the invalid first statement, should be suppressed, and distinguished Elstad on the ground that the warnings had not intentionally been withheld there.


Taking into consideration the circumstances of the case at hand, was the accused’s post-warning statement inadmissible at trial?




The United States Supreme Court expressed the view that the accused's post-warning statement was inadmissible at trial, because the officer's midstream recitation of warnings after his initial interrogation and the accused's unwarned confession could not effectively have complied with Miranda's constitutional requirement, as the officer's question-first tactic effectively had threatened to thwart Miranda's purpose of reducing the risk that a coerced confession would be admitted. The Court held that the facts in the instant case did not reasonably support a conclusion that the warnings given could have served their purpose for when, as in the instant case, Miranda warnings were inserted in the midst of coordinated and continuing interrogation, the warnings were likely to mislead, and deprive an accused of knowledge essential to the accused's ability to understand the nature of the accused's rights, and the consequences of abandoning them. Furthermore, the Court held that it ordinarily would be unrealistic to treat two spates of integrated and proximately-conducted questioning as independent interrogations subject to independent evaluation simply because Miranda warnings had formally punctuated them in the middle.

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