Thursday, May 28, 2009

Supreme Court Overrules Precedent Now Allowing Police to Intiate Questioning

In yet another sign of how far right the Supreme Court has swung, it has overruled a 23 year old Supreme Court decision that had previously barred police from initiating questioning of a defendant after they asserted their right to an attorney in court. The case involved Louisiana death row inmate Jay Montejo who had been sentenced to die for the murder of a dry cleaning operator in 2002. Montejo had initially waived his right to an attorney and gave several different, conflicting stories when initially questioned by police. A few days later he appeared in court for a preliminary hearing and the judge appointed an attorney to represent Montejo. Later the same day. police went to Mantejo in jail to question him and he again waived his right to an attorney and spoke to the police without his attorney being present. While being questioned, he wrote a letter to the victim's wife confessing to the murder and apologizing to the wife. The letter was introduced at his trial. In 1986, in Michigan v. Jackson, the Supreme Court had stated that after an attorney is appointed for a defendant, the police were not allowed to initiate any further questioning of the defendant. Only the defendant could initiate the questioning.

This decision appears to be limited to these facts. In cases in which a defendant invokes his right to remain silent and requests an attorney, the police cannot initiate any further questioning. But in this case, the defendant never invoked his right to remain silent nor his right to have an attorney present prior to questioning. Apparently, the Supreme Court did not consider the appointment of an attorney to be equal to him invoking his right to remain silent or to require that an attorney be present prior to questioning. If Montejo had invoked any of those rights prior to the last questioning, he would have won the case.

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