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U.S. Supreme Court Limits Edwards Rule

In Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), the Supreme Court held that statements made to police during an interrogation following a request for counsel are presumed invalid. The so-called Edwards rule was designed to protect the safeguards afforded by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) against coercive interrogations. In a decision handed down on February 24, 2010, however, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the Edwards rule.

In Maryland v. Shatzer, the Court determined that Edwards’ presumption of involuntariness against statements made during an interrogation after a suspect had invoked his right to counsel did not apply after a break in custody of 14 days. In other words, if you ask for an attorney while being interrogated, and are then released, police can reinterrogate you after 14 days without running afoul of Edwards. If you say anything incriminating during the reinterrogation, the police can use those statements against you in spite of your prior request for counsel.

A “break” in custody also occurs if police interview you in prison under the Court’s Shatzer opinion. For example, you are doing time for one crime and police visit the facility to ask you questions about a different crime. During the police interview, you decline to answer any questions and ask for an attorney. Once the interview terminates and you are returned to the general prison population, Shatzer considers the return to be a “break” in your custody. Thus, if police come to interview you again, say 20 days later, your prior request for counsel is no longer valid.

This is a significant decision for criminal defendants, and reinforces the importance of everyone questioned about a crime to steadfastly invoke their right to counsel when subject to interrogation by law enforcement officials. See: Maryland v. Shatzer, 130 S.Ct. 1213 (2010).

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Related legal case

Maryland v. Shatzer