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Appeals Court Protects the Rights of Individuals in Interrogations Against Coercive Police Conduct

pexels-photo-532001Recently, in Commonwealth v. Davis, the Massachusetts Appeals Court determined that Massachusetts State Police officers coerced an individual to waive his Miranda rights when they arrested him after he attempted to exercise his constitutional right to counsel during an interrogation.

Facts

Mr. Davis, who was cooperating with the Commonwealth in several criminal investigations, voluntarily came to the State Police office without his attorney to answer additional questions about one of these investigations. When Mr. Davis arrived, he was informed that the police doubted the veracity of several statements he made in relation to the investigation, and that they wanted to question Mr. Davis about these prior statements and administer a polygraph test. A detective “repeatedly assured” Mr. Davis that the interrogation and polygraph test were “voluntary[,]” and that “he was free to leave at any time.” However, when Mr. Davis expressed concerns about submitting to an interrogation and polygraph test without his lawyer present, this detective “ominously” warned him of the potential consequences of his failure to comply: “[i]t’s your testimony[;] [i]t’s your future.”

When the police decided to abandon the polygraph test, Mr. Davis effectively executed a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights and submitted to police questioning. However, when that questioning became more “focused and aggressive,” Mr. Davis attempted to leave the interrogation room and exercise his constitutional right to counsel. Once Mr. Davis attempted to exercise his constitutional rights, police officers informed him that he was no longer free to leave. The lead investigating officer told Mr. Davis to calm down and submit to further questioning, and then began lecturing Mr. Davis; the officer told him that he “would not be able to leave a court room [during his testimony] just because he did not like the tenor of the questioning.” Mr. Davis then received his Miranda rights for a second time, but he refused to submit to further questioning without his lawyer.

After Mr. Davis tried to exercise his constitutional rights, the officers stopped the interrogation, turned off their video recording, handcuffed Mr. Davis, and told him that he was now in police custody. The lead investigating officer also commented that Mr. Davis was “making things difficult” by attempting to speak with his lawyer before proceeding with the interrogation. When the police were unable to reach Mr. Davis’ attorney, they informed him that he was under arrest for perjury and misleading a police officer. When he learned that he was being arrested, Mr. Davis wanted to explain himself, and he stated that he would like to continue to speak with the police so long as his lawyer was present. However, one of the detectives told Mr. Davis that he could not explain himself because he asked for counsel. Consequently, Mr. Davis reinitiated discussions with the police, waived his Miranda rights, and submitted to a two-hour interrogation.

Holding and Analysis

Defense counsel filed a motion to suppress the statements that Mr. Davis made during this two-hour interrogation, arguing that Mr. Davis’ final waiver of his Miranda rights was not voluntary. On appeal, the Appeals Court affirmed the motion judge’s determination that Mr. Davis’ free will was overborne by the State Police when he was placed under arrest after attempting to exercise his constitutional right to counsel.

In order for an individual to execute an effective waiver of their Miranda rights after previously invoking those rights, they must initiate further discussions with the police, and execute a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of the right invoked. Here, the Appeals Court found that Mr. Davis reinitiated conversations with the police, satisfying the first prong of this test. After Mr. Davis was arrested, he stated that he wanted to continue to talk with the police so long as his lawyer was present. When this was denied, Mr. Davis agreed to speak with the police and waived his Miranda rights. However, the Appeals Court determined that the police “employ[ed] coercive tactics to goad [Mr. Davis] into initiating communications” by arresting him when he asked to speak to counsel: the police “did not need to engage in any dialog with [Mr. Davis;] they spoke very loudly by arresting him after he requested that counsel be present.”

The Appeals Court concluded that Mr. Davis’ waiver of his constitutional rights was not voluntary: “[t]he totality of the circumstances showed, and the [motion judge] found, a concerted effort by the police to coerce [Mr. Davis] to waive his rights.” To evaluate whether Mr. Davis’ Miranda waiver was voluntary, the Court focused primarily on the details of the interrogation. Mr. Davis was without counsel, and he was “outnumbered by four police officers.” The police repeatedly asked Mr. Davis to take a polygraph test, and then interrogated him after he refused to take the polygraph without a lawyer present. The Court determined that the police “fail[ed] to honor the right of a person in custody to cut off questioning ‘by persisting in repeated efforts to wear down his resistance and make him change his mind.” When Mr. Davis attempted to end the interrogation and exercise his right to counsel, the police did not “scrupulously honor those requests[;] [i]nstead, the supervising officer lectured [Mr. Davis] on why he should continue speaking with the other officers.” Once it became clear that defense counsel was unavailable, the police should have let Mr. Davis leave; instead, they placed him under arrest for perjury and misleading officers.

The Appeals Court also emphasized that the investigating officers weaponized Mr. Davis’ attempt to exercise his constitutional rights against him: “after accusing [Mr. Davis] of lying, [the investigating officer] told [him] that he could not explain himself because he had asked for counsel.” The Appeals Court also found it significant that the police recorded everything that transpired except the conversation during which Mr. Davis “purportedly initiated further communications and asked to proceed without his lawyer.” Under Massachusetts case law, the “failure to preserve evidence of the interrogation in a thorough and reliable form can comprise a basis for concluding that voluntariness and a valid waiver have not been established beyond a reasonable doubt.” Thus, the Appeals Court affirmed the motion judge’s order granting defense counsel’s motion to suppress the statements made during the two-hour interrogation.

Impact of this Decision

Through its decision, the Appeals Court protected the rights of individuals in interrogations against coercive police conduct. As the Court noted, under a previous case—Commonwealth v. Santos—the standard for a voluntary waiver of Miranda rights was that the defendant had to be the one to reinitiate communications, and had to voluntarily agree to speak without an attorney, “without any dialogue from the police.” In Davis, the Appeals Court clarified that an individual’s free will can also be overborne by police conduct even where the police do not verbally reinitiate further conversations. In this case, Mr. Davis’ actions technically met the standard set out in Santos: he reinitiated discussions with the police by saying he wanted to continue speaking with the police, but only if his lawyer was present. When this request was rejected, Mr. Davis waived his Miranda rights and agreed to proceed with the interrogation without his lawyer. Although there was no “dialogue” from the police in the present case, the Appeals Court held that by arresting Davis after he requested that his counsel be present “they spoke very loudly by arresting him.” The Davis court appropriately declined to give Santos a narrow, literal reading, and properly recognized the coercive effect of the police arresting someone for refusing to submit to questioning without a lawyer present.

If you have been arrested or are facing criminal charges, contact our criminal defense attorneys at (617) 742-6020.

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