The New York Court of Appeals vacated a defendant’s conviction and ordered a new trial in People v. Dunbar. They ruled that the statements made by the defendant should have been suppressed because the pre-Miranda statements by the Queens District Attorney’s Office to the defendant nullified his waiver of his right to remain silent and right to counsel. The Court was absolutely correct in this ruling.
Thanks to pop culture and basic high school civics, just about everybody knows and understands the famous Miranda warnings that police give suspects accused of a crime. You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney, etc, etc, etc. The United States Supreme Court held in Miranda v. Arizona that any time a person is legally in custody, he has to be read these warnings or anything he says cannot be used against him at his trial. The Court came up with this blanket rule so that police procedures regarding the taking of statements would be consistent throughout the country. The problem for law enforcement, though, is that some of the best evidence they can ever get about a case comes from the defendant’s own mouth and thanks to the Supreme Court, they have to tell the guy he has the right to keep his mouth shut. As I’ve previously written, a statement by a defendant does not need to be a full confession for the statement to be useful. Anything the defendant says that can be disproven by cold and hard facts can be used as powerful evidence that he lied about what happened and is therefore guilty. This is amplified by the fact that the defendant in a post-arrest situation is always going to be scared, alone, and has absolutely no idea what the police know and what they don’t know. So he’s figuratively swimming deep in the ocean in the middle of the night in these situations. This is true whether he is innocent or whether he is guilty. This is why he has the right to a lawyer.