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Adequacy of Miranda Warnings And The Fifth Amendment Right To Remain Silent


miranda warnings, self incrimination, confession, knowingly, criminal appeal lawyer

New York Court of Appeals

People v. Dunbar

2014 NY Slip Op 07293

Decided on October 28, 2014

Blog By: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer

Issue: Whether or not Defendants’ Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination were violated when Police asked a series of questions and gave them distorted versions of their Miranda warnings.

In People v. Dunbar, the Detective investigator with the Assistant District Attorney stated the following:

“I’m going to read you your rights now, and then you can decide if you want to speak with us, O.K? You have the right to be arraigned without undue delay; that is, to be brought before a Judge, to be advised of the charges against you, to have an attorney assigned or appointed for you, and to have the question of bail decided by the court.” (Gave the Miranda warnings); and asked “Now that I have advised you of your rights, are you willing to answer questions?

In People v. Douglas, the Detective Investigator with the Assistant District Attorney stated the following:

“In a few minutes, I’m going to give you an opportunity to explain what you did and what happened at that date, time, and place. Then I will read you your rights, and you can talk with me if you’d like.” (Gave the Miranda warnings); and asked “Now that I have advised you of your rights, are you willing to answer questions?

Summary: This appeal deals with two Defendants that were in custody and were asked a series of questions that were distorted versions of their Miranda rights. Defendants’ sought to suppress the statements made and were denied.

In Dunbar, The Appellate Divisions reversed concluding that the “preamble” (information and suggestion) prevented the Miranda warnings from effectively conveying a suspect of their rights and created a muddled and ambiguous message.

In Douglas, The Appellate Division reversed, ordering a suppression of the statement for the reasons stated in the same case.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Divisions’ orders in both cases and held that, by advising each Defendant that speaking would facilitate an investigation, the interrogatories implied that these Defendants’ words would be used to help them, thus, undermining the heart of the Miranda warning that anything they said could be used against them. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Divisions’ orders.

See Also: Drug Law Reform Act Of 2009: Excludes Defendants From Sentence Reduction

Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the series of questions that were asked to the Defendants created a muddled and ambiguous message to the extent that that the Defendants were not adequately advised of their Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination and the statements attributed to them were suppressed.

Facts: This appeal deals with two Defendants that were in custody and were asked a series of questions that were distorted versions of their Miranda rights.

In Dunbar,

Defendant, while in custody, was interviewed by a Detective Investigator (DI) and a Assistant District Attorney (ADA). They informed Defendant that they would read him his rights, and after, give him an opportunity to explain what he did. The DI then gave a “preamble” of distorted versions of the standardized Miranda warning and Defendant gave a statement. After Dunbar was indicted, he made a motion to suppress.

He argues that his videotaped statement was not voluntary and that he had not been adequately advised of his Miranda rights; the suppression court denied the motion to suppress. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that the preamble prevented the Miranda warnings from effectively conveying to suspects their rights. The People sought leave to the Court of Appeals where the Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s order.

In Douglas,

Defendant was in custody and was interviewed by an Assistant District Attorney and a Detective Investigator. The ADA told Defendant the charges he would be facing and that he would be read his rights. The DI then delivered a distorted version of Miranda warnings.  After Douglas was indicted, he moved to suppress the statements. He argued that the statement was involuntarily made and should be suppressed; that motion was denied. The Appellate Division reversed, ordering suppression of the statement for the reasons stated in the companion case above. The People sought leave to the Court of Appeals where the Appellate Division was affirmed.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that an individual taken into custody by law enforcement authorities for questioning must be adequately and effectively apprised of his rights safeguarded by the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Miranda, 384 US at 467; US Const. Amend V.

First, the authorities must inform a suspect in clear and unequivocal terms of the right to remain silent. Second, they must make a suspect aware not only of the privilege, but also of the consequences of forgoing it by explaining that anything he says during the interrogation can and will be used against him in court.

To assure that this right to choose between silence and speech remains unfettered throughout the interrogation process, the authorities must also explain to the suspect that he has a right to the presence of an attorney. And finally, so that the right to an attorney is not “hollow”, the authorities must also advise the suspect that if he is indigent a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

The Court of Appeals held that these four warnings are an absolute prerequisite to interrogation. The Fifth Amendment privilege is so fundamental to our system of Constitutional rule and the expedient of giving an adequate warning as to the availability of the privilege so simple, a court does not pause to inquire in individual cases whether the Defendant was aware of his right without a warning being given.

Prior to the Miranda decision, courts looked at every confession individually for voluntariness, using a totality-of-the-circumstances test grounded in notions of Due Process. This Due Process test took into consideration the totality of all the surrounding circumstances—both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation. While the prosecution must prove voluntariness of a confession, Miranda changed the focus of much of the inquiry.

Miranda has become embedded in routine practice to the point where the warnings have become a part of our national culture, Dickerson v. United States, 530 US 428, 443 2000. Since Miranda was handed down, the United States Supreme Court has declined to return to the totality-of-the-circumstances test of voluntariness, or to allow the Government to meet its burden without demonstrating compliance with the Miranda procedure.

In sum, absent a full and effective warning of these rights and a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver, statements made by a suspect during custodial interrogation must be suppressed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Divisions’ order for suppression.


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