In State v. Elkins, the WA Court of Appeals decided that whether the officers have scrupulously honored the defendant’ s right to silence and right to counsel under Miranda must be determined on a case -by -case basis, and that there is no bright-line rule requiring police officers to fully re-advise previously Mirandized suspects when reinitiating interrogation.
Yakima County deputies received a tip that defendant Eugene Elkins had killed his girlfriend Kornelia Engelmann. Yakima County deputies arrived and arrested him. He was advised of his Miranda rights. For those who don’t know, police officers must inform defendants of their Miranda rights once police place a defendant in custody and/or conduct investigations via questioning the defendant. The Miranda rights are stated as follows:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”
Miranda protects a defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination, and may incline defendants to stop talking and/or immediately seek the advice of an attorney. Once a defendant asserts their Miranda rights, the police MUST stop questioning the defendant. And, generally speaking, police must repeat and re-inform defendants of their Miranda rights if questioning continues at a later time; and/or defendants change their minds and want to speak to the police.
Here, at around 3;30 p.m., Yakima County deputies advised Elkins of his Miranda rights before arresting him. Elkins declined to make a statement, and the Yakima County deputies did not question him further. They took him into custody.
Later, the police again attempted to interview Elkins at about 8: 30 PM. Although they did not re-advise Elkins of his Miranda rights, police asked Elkins if he had been advised of these rights, if he remembered them, and if he understood those rights were still in effect. After Elkins confirmed that he recalled being advised of his Miranda rights and that he understood those rights were still in effect, Elkins agreed to talk to the deputies. In short, he informed the police that he and Ms. Engelmann had a verbal argument which led to a physical altercation.
When the deputies commented on the extensive bruising on Engelmann’ s body and asked Elkins if he had kicked her, hit her with something, or hit her with a closed fist, Elkins said that he did not want to talk to the deputies any longer and requested an attorney. The deputies ended the interview.
On June 7, the very next day, Elkins gave a full written statement to police after they re-advised him of his Miranda rights. In the statement, he admitted to killing Engelmann. Elkins was subsequently charged with Murder in the Second Degree.
The case proceeded to a jury trial. Before trial, Elkins moved under CrR 3.5 to suppress the statements he made to the police on June 6 and June 7. However, the trial court admitted all of Elkins’ statements. At trial, Elkins was found guilty of Murder in the Second Degree. He appealed his conviction to the WA Court of Appeals Division II.
In rendering its decision, the Court acknowledged that fully re-advising a suspect of his Miranda rights is clearly the best practice when resuming questioning of a suspect who has asserted his right to silence. However, the Court also said there is no bright-line rule that law enforcement officers must always fully re-advise a defendant of his or her Miranda rights. In addition, they said that the issue of whether a defendant’ s rights have been scrupulously honored must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
The Court further reasoned that under the totality of the circumstances, Elkins statements were not coercively obtained by police. The facts show that ( 1) the Yakima deputies ceased questioning Elkins immediately when he asserted his right to silence, (2) no law enforcement officer attempted to interrogate Elkins for a significant period of time, five hours, before his subsequent contact with the police, ( 3) no law enforcement officer engaged in any coercive tactics, and (4) the police did not interrogate Elkins until after they confirmed that he had been read his rights, that he recalled those rights, and that he understood those rights were still in effect. The court also said the following:
“[T]he subsequent interrogation is proper if the State has shown that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived those rights given the totality of the circumstances, not whether the subsequent contact was preceded by law enforcement fully re-advising the defendant of his or her Miranda rights. When this and the other factors . . . are met, the officers have scrupulously honored the defendant’ s rights.”
Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that Elkins’ June 6 waiver was knowing and voluntary under the circumstances. They also reasoned that his statements made during transport and June 7, 2014 statements were also admissible because Elkins initiated the relevant conversation following his assertion of his right to counsel and then knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. The Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.
My opinion? My heart goes out to the victim’s friends and family. I sincerely hope they find comfort in the Court of Appeals’ decision. However, I disagree with the decision. When it comes to protecting people’s constitutional rights, bright-line rules work best. And its always been a time-tested rule that police MUST re-advise suspects of their Miranda rights, especially under circumstances like this.