Criminal Defendants Lose Another Protection of Federal Constitutional Rights

Yesterday the Supreme Court eliminated a federal protection of criminal defendants’ right to counsel. Criminal defendants here in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as the rest of the country, now may be interrogated by police even after they secure representation by defense lawyers, if they don’t specifically request the lawyers’ presence or if they are not in police custody.

In yesterday’s Montejo v. Louisiana, the deeply divided Court overruled its 1986 opinion in Michigan v. Jackson, which prohibited police from initiating interrogation of a criminal defendant once he or she had invoked the right to counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, reasoned that the rule in Jackson was unworkable because some states appoint public defenders without any request from the defendant, whereas other states require defendants to formally request counsel. That discrepancy led to different treatment of defendants based on only geography. Scalia went on to explain that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which Jackson protected, is sufficiently guarded by the Fifth Amendment right to counsel rules proscribed in Miranda v. Arizona, Edwards v. Arizona, and Minnick v. Mississippi.

Frankly, we disagree. The Fifth Amendment protections are limited to only custodial interrogations, so they do not apply to any defendants who are not in custody or who are interacting with police in a non-interrogation situation, such as a line-up. They are significantly narrower protections than Jackson provided. In addition, the whole point of getting a lawyer is that he or she can evaluate the situation and provide advice to the defendant during a very stressful time. Simply Mirandizing a person who has been formally charged and who has already obtained counsel is not sufficient, particularly if that person has not yet had a chance to even meet his or her lawyer, as was the case in Montejo.

We are very disappointed by this decision.

The Court’s opinion can be found here.