THE right of a crime suspect to remain silent, under the famous Miranda decision, has its limits, the U.S. Supreme Court has said in a reasonable decision about repeat offenders. The court recently ruled that investigators can resume questioning a suspect, who initially invoked his Miranda right to a lawyer, if the suspect has been out of police custody for at least two weeks.
All nine Supreme Court justices reversed a ruling by a Maryland appeals court that had thrown out the confession of Michael Shatzer, who initially invoked his right not to talk without a lawyer when police first questioned him about abusing his son in 2003.
Nearly three years later, while Shatzer was in prison for a different sexual-abuse crime, he waived his Miranda rights, made incriminating statements about the earlier alleged child abuse, and was convicted.
A trial judge rejected Shatzer's request that the statements, freely given, be kept out of court. But on appeal, his conviction was invalidated by state judges who cited a 1981 Supreme Court ruling intended to protect suspects from repeated police badgering to talk.
The rule has been understood to prevent police from ever requestioning a suspect once he had invoked his Miranda rights. Any future waiver of those rights was to be considered involuntary.
But the Supreme Court scaled back that earlier ruling, reasoning that two-and-a-half years was enough time between the first and second interrogations, even though Shatzer was being held in prison and there was no cause to believe that his choice to talk was coerced.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia also said - for future cases - the court needed to set a minimum time for a break from custody and requestioning, and determined that 14 days was sufficient.
That time line didn't sit well with Justice John Paul Stevens, who thought it should be longer, or Justice Clarence Thomas, who thought any time limit was unnecessary because a suspect re-entering custody after being questioned and released needed only to invoke his right to counsel again.
But the court was unanimous in wisely decreeing that once a suspect waives his rights and freely agrees to talk to police, he can't seek cover from self-incrimination by invoking protections that don't apply.