Arizona v. Roberson

486 U. S. 675

June 15, 1988

When arrested for burglary, the suspect invoked his Edwards v. Arizona right to not be questioned without a lawyer. Later, the police gave him another Miranda warning, and questioned him about a different burglary. Roberson moved that his incriminating statements about the different burglary be excluded from trial because his original request to not be questioned without a lawyer still stood. The Court had to decide whether the Edwards rule extended to questioning about unrelated crimes.

The Court ruled 6-2 that the rule did extend that far (O’Connor did not participate). Stevens distinguished some seemingly contrary precedents because they did not precisely involve the Edwards right to have no custodial questioning after a request for a lawyer. That the Miranda warning was re-administered did not matter, because the coercive pressures of several days in custody might weaken the suspect’s resolve. Stevens felt that a suspect who had requested a lawyer once should be properly resumed to desire one in other cases.

Kennedy, joined by Rehnquist dissented. Because Edwards was a prophylactic rule, rather than a Constitutional command, and because the dangers Edwards meant to address did not seem present, Kennedy did not think the rule properly covered the police conduct. There was no reason to presume that a Miranda warning would not assure a suspect that he could re-invoke his right to a lawyer. Neither should it be presumed that one suspect will necessarily want a lawyer for every single case.

Kennedy is probably right. It’s surprising to see Scalia going along with the majority. A few years later, he would dissent in another case about extending prophylactic rules, saying that the various extensions had created “a veritable fairyland castle of imagined constitutional restriction.”

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