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Habeas – Miranda

Bobby v. Archie Dixon, USSC No. 10-1540, 11/7/11 (per curiam), reversing Dixon v. Houk, 627 F.3d 553 (6th Cir 2010)

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a state prisoner seeking a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court “must show that the state court’s ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 13). The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit purported to identify three such grievous errors in the Ohio Supreme Court’s affirmance of respondent Archie Dixon’s murder conviction. Because it is not clear that the Ohio Supreme Court erred at all, much less erred so transparently that no fairminded jurist could agree with that court’s decision, the Sixth Circuit’s judgment must be reversed.

Dixon raises 3 Miranda-related challenges. First, after Dixon’s arrest on an otherwise unrelated forgery, the police questioned him about the murder without administering Miranda warnings. Dixon had previously, during a chance non-custodial encounter with a detective, invoked his right to counsel and the police feared he would again invoke that right should they give him Miranda warnings. The Sixth Circuit held that, in light of the prior invocation of counsel, the subsequent interrogation violated clearly established principles. The Court overturns that holding:

That is plainly wrong. It is undisputed that Dixon was not in custody during his chance encounter with police on November 4. And this Court has “never held that a person can invoke his Miranda rights anticipatorily, in a context other than ‘custodial interrogation.’” McNeil v. Wisconsin, 501 U. S. 171, 182, n. 3 (1991); see also Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U. S. 778, ___ (2009) (slip. op., at 16) (“If the defendant is not in custody then [Miranda and its progeny] do not apply”).

Dixon separately argues that his statement was involuntary because a detective told him that a co-actor might “start[] cutting a deal,” so “now is the time to say” whether Dixon was involved in the crime:

Second, the Sixth Circuit held that police violated the Fifth Amendment by urging Dixon to “cut a deal” before his accomplice Hoffner did so.1 The Sixth Circuit cited no precedent of this Court—or any court—holding that this common police tactic is unconstitutional. Cf., e.g., Elstad, supra, at 317 (“[T]he Court has refused to find that a defendant who confesses, after being falsely told that his codefendant has turned State’s evidence, does so involuntarily”). Because no holding of this Court suggests, much less clearly establishes, that police may not urge a suspect to confess before another suspect does so, the Sixth Circuit had no authority to issue the writ on this ground.2

Finally, the Court rejects the idea that the “question-first, warn-later” stratagem required suppression; Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U. S. 600 (2004), distinguished:

In this case, no two-step interrogation technique of the type that concerned the Court in Seibert undermined the Miranda warnings Dixon received. In Seibert, the suspect’s first, unwarned interrogation left “little, if anything, of incriminating potential left unsaid,” making it “unnatural” not to “repeat at the second stage what had been said before.” 542 U. S., at 616–617 (plurality opinion). But in this case Dixon steadfastly maintained during his first,unwarned interrogation that he had “[n]othing whatsoever” to do with Hammer’s disappearance. App. to Pet. for Cert. 186a. Thus, unlike in Seibert, there is no concern here that police gave Dixon Miranda warnings and then led him to repeat an earlier murder confession, because there was no earlier confession to repeat. Indeed, Dixon contradicted his prior unwarned statements when he confessed to Hammer’s murder. Nor is there any evidence that police used Dixon’s earlier admission to forgery to induce him to waive his right to silence later: Dixon declared his desire to tell police what happened to Hammer before the second interrogation session even began. As the Ohio Supreme Court reasonably concluded, there was simply “no nexus” between Dixon’s unwarned admission to forgery and his later, warned confession to murder. 101 Ohio St. 3d, at 333, 805 N. E. 2d, at 1051.

(The Court also stresses a “significant break in time and dramatic change in circumstances,” namely: lapse of four hours between unwarned interrogation and receipt of rights; Dixon’s transport back to jail before interrogation resumed; Dixon’s claim to have spoken with lawyer; Dixon’s having learned that police were talking with his accomplice.)

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