Fourth Circuit: Miranda Doesn’t Apply In Sentencing
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA , February 28, 2006 — Ever since the 1960s, police have been required to obey the mandate that when a custodial interrogee invokes the right to consult with counsel, “all questioning must cease.” Any violation of this rule results in the invocation of the most celebrated exclusionary rule in American jurisprudence. Americans have largely understood the mandates of Miranda v. Arizona to be inflexible and absolute; the government may not use any information obtained in violation of Miranda against the accused at trial.
Well, not so fast. Actually, there are occasions in which the prosecution may use illegally obtained self-inculpatory statements. For example, they may be used to impeach the defendant if he takes the witness stand, as long as the statement was not coerced. Information gained from a non-coerced statement also may result in leads that the police may freely pursue, giving them access to witnesses and physical evidence they would not otherwise learn about.
Today, the Fourth Circuit found another place in which illegally obtained statements can be used: At sentencing. In US v. Nichols, it ruled that where such evidence is reliable, no good policy reasons support exclusion of the statement from the sentencing phase of a trial. In this case, Nichols engaged in a casual conversation with police, without the use of handcuffs. He got a cigarette when he wanted one. He stated that he thought it would be better for him to talk with police.
That didnt stop a magistrate judge, and then a
In an unusual move, prosecutors appealed the district courts refusal; today, they won. The Fourth Circuit found that this type of evidence is really not very different from other types of evidence that are routinely considered in sentencing, but would be strictly forbidden at the guilt phase (for example, evidence of prior convictions to enhance punishment). The decision stops short of sanctioning police efforts to develop uncounseled statements for the primary purpose of enhancing sentencing, so investigators cant use this case as a green light to go fishing for inflammatory evidence.
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