Recently, a state appellate court addressed a defendant’s appeal in a Michigan homicide case, arguing that a lower court should have suppressed a statement he made to police during an interrogation because they ignored his request for an attorney.
According to the record, the 19-year-old defendant lived in the same neighborhood as the victim and was friends with him since kindergarten. The state contends that the defendant shot and killed the victim in a wooded area near the neighborhood, and returned to the scene about a month later to show his girlfriend the victim’s body. The man and his girlfriend dismembered the victim’s remains and stuffed them in a duffle bag. During their investigation, police became aware that the defendant had some knowledge of the victim’s whereabouts—a short time after detectives received specific information linking the defendant to the murder. Specifically, the man’s girlfriend confessed to a family friend that she knew the location of the victim’s body. After locating body parts in the defendant’s backyard, they located him at a drug rehabilitation facility, woke him up, and arrested him.
After two hours of questioning, the defendant first claimed that he shot the victim accidentally in self-defense. The defendant claimed that he asked for a lawyer; however, the detectives responded, “do you have an attorney that can come here at four o’clock in the morning.” Later in the discussion, the defendant admitted to intentionally shooting the victim while he was lying on the ground.
The United States Supreme Court has held that under the seminal case Miranda v. Arizona, when an accused “states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.” Further, after an attorney arrives, the accused must be allowed to confer with the attorney and have him present during subsequent questioning. Most importantly, police questioning must end when the accused invokes his right, unless the suspect re-initiates contact. Here, the court found that the defendant unequivocally requested the presence of his attorney. However, the court reasoned that the admission was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
In its’ ruling, the court determined that the defendant’s guilt was overwhelming, even without his confession. They pointed to the defendant’s ex-girlfriend’s testimony, which was powerful and did not include any evidence that the shooting was done in self-defense. Ultimately, the evidence that the defendant shot and killed the victim without justification was overwhelming, and a jury would have found him guilty, even without the confession to the police.
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