Supreme Court Tightens Limits on Interrogation

Times Staff Writer

The Supreme Court placed new constitutional limits Tuesday on the use of criminal confessions, ruling 6 to 3 that police may not question suspects who have asked for a lawyer at an arraignment or other court proceedings.

The court affirmed two lower court decisions invalidating incriminating statements made by two Michigan murder defendants in police-initiated interrogations before they consulted with counsel they had requested at their arraignments.

The fact they had been informed of their rights before the questioning made no difference, the court said.

Written by Stevens


“If police initiate interrogation after a defendant’s assertion, at an arraignment or similar proceeding, of his right to counsel, any waiver of (that right) for that police-initiated interrogation is invalid,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court. The decision was the latest in a series flowing from the justices’ landmark 1966 ruling in Miranda vs. Arizona, requiring police to inform suspects in custody of their rights to silence and the presence of counsel before any interrogation may begin.

The justices expanded a 1981 decision based on the Miranda ruling that said, under the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, once a suspect in custody has requested counsel all questioning must stop unless and until the accused himself initiates it.

The court said the reasons for limiting interrogation “are even stronger” after an accused has been formally charged at arraignment and is then guaranteed the right to assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, in a concurring opinion, agreed that the court’s 1981 precedent required Tuesday’s ruling--but he observed that the justices had come to make “absolutist, mechanical” rulings on the use of confessions.

Wants Re-Examination


Suspects must be protected from police coercion, “but step by step we have carried this concept well beyond sound, common-sense boundaries,” Burger wrote. “Plainly, the subject calls for re-examination.”

In dissent, Justice William H. Rehnquist, joined by Justices Lewis F. Powell Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor, said there was no reason to apply the 1981 ruling to post-arraignment situations because there was no evidence police commonly deny defendants their right to counsel. The court’s ruling (Michigan vs. Jackson, 84-1531; Michigan vs. Bladel, 84-1539) upheld a Michigan Supreme Court ruling in 1984 overturning the convictions of Robert Bernard Jackson and Rudy Bladel.

The court majority rejected a contention by Michigan authorities that the two murder defendants’ request for counsel should apply only to legal representation during formal court proceedings.