How Long Do the Police Have to Wait Before They Can Question Someone Who is in Custody and Who Has Asked to Have a Lawyer Present?


        In the case of Edwards v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court ruled that when the police question someone who is in custody and that person expresses a desire to deal with the police only through a lawyer, the police have to stop questioning the person unless he or she voluntarily initiates further communication with the police.

          Earlier this year, though, the Supreme Court decided the case of Maryland v. Shatzer which dealt at length with the ruling in Edwards.  The relevant facts in Shatzer are as follows:

          In 2003, a police detective tried to question Mr. Shatzer while he was already incarcerated at a Maryland prison on another charge about allegations that he had sexually abused his son.  Shatzer, however, exercised his Miranda right to have an attorney present while being questioned, so the detective stopped the interview.  Shatzer returned to the general prison population, and the investigation was closed.  Subsequently, in 2006, another detective reopened the investigation and attempted to question Shatzer once again while he was still incarcerated.  This time, Shatzer waived his Miranda rights and made incriminating statements.

          Shatzer’s lawyer filed a motion to suppress his incriminating statements to the second detective based on the fact that he had told the first detective three years earlier that he wanted a lawyer present while being questioned.  Shatzer lost that motion, and his case ultimately ended up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

          The High Court also ruled against Shatzer and in doing so stated:

          1.  Edwards v. Arizona held that once a suspect invokes his Miranda right to have an attorney present while being questioned by the police, any waiver of that right in response to subsequent questioning by the police is deemed involuntary and therefore inadmissible in court.

          2.  But where a suspect has been released from custody and returned to his normal life for some time before the police attempt to question him again, there is little reason to believe that his decision to speak with the police was coerced.

          3.  After 14 days have passed, the ruling in Edwards v. Arizona no longer applies.  That is to say, the police are free to return to a suspect and try to question him again even though he stated he wanted a lawyer present when the police previously tried to question him as long as at least 14 days have passed between the two events.

          4.  Shatzer’s release back into the general prison population constituted a break in custody for purposes of satisfying the requirements contained in Miranda v. Arizona.