Police interrogation: Do you know your lawyer can be present?
The US Supreme Court is considering a Florida case in which the defendant – and Florida courts – said he hadn’t been adequately informed that his lawyer could be present.
Law enforcement officials are required to warn criminal suspects that they have a right to remain silent and a right to talk to a lawyer before an interrogation. But what happens if the police fail to mention a suspect’s right to have a lawyer present during the interrogation?Skip to next paragraph
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That’s the question at the center of a case set for argument at the US Supreme Court on Monday.
At issue in Florida v. Powell is whether the Florida Supreme Court ruled correctly when it threw out Kevin Dewayne Powell’s gun possession conviction because police failed to advise him of his right to have a lawyer with him to offer advice during his interrogation.
Mr. Powell was arrested in August 2004 by Tampa police during a robbery investigation. Police found Powell at his girlfriend’s apartment. During a search they found a loaded pistol under a bed.
Powell was a convicted felon with ten prior offenses and could not lawfully be in possession of a firearm.
After discovering the gun, police arrested Powell and took him to headquarters for questioning. Prior to the interrogation police read Powell his Miranda warnings. They included the sentence: “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions.” The warning also included: “You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.”
He confessed to owning the gun
Powell waived his right to remain silent and confessed that the pistol belonged to him. He later went to trial and testified that his confession was false and had been coerced by police. He said the loaded pistol was not his.
Instead, he told the jury that the officers threatened that if he didn’t admit to the gun charge they would charge his girlfriend with a crime, expel her from public housing, and have her children taken away from her. The jury found Powell guilty and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On appeal, his lawyer argued that police gave a confusing version of the Miranda warnings prior to his interrogation and the alleged confession. The appeals court agreed, throwing out the confession and overturning his conviction. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed.
The state high court said that informing a suspect of his right to consult a lawyer before answering any questions did not adequately advise the suspect of his additional right to have an attorney present throughout the interrogation.