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Eastern District grants habeas; COA unreasonably applied Miranda progeny

Ladarius Marshall v. Scott Eckstein, No. 15-CV-008 (E.D. Wis. Apr. 22, 2020)

Marshall pleaded to homicide and other charges. Before he did so, though, he moved to suppress statements he’d made during more than 12 hours of interrogation at the police station (he was 16 years old at the time). The trial court and our court of appeals held that the interrogating officers “scrupulously honored” Marshall’s multiple assertions that he didn’t want to talk with them anymore. The federal district court finds this conclusion unreasonable because the officers deflected his refusals to talk and cajoled him into continuing. What’s more, the court says that even his later statements–given to officers who did follow Miranda‘s rules–must be suppressed because they were too closely connected to his original, unlawfully-taken statements.

Under AEDPA, a federal court can’t grant a habeas petition unless the state court decision is either contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, law that’s been clearly established by the Supreme Court. The relevant law here is Miranda v. Arizona and several SCOTUS cases that elaborated upon it. In a nutshell, Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96 (1975), said that a suspect’s request to cut of questioning must be “scrupulously honored”–that the police may not respond “either by refusing to discontinue the interrogation upon request or by persisting in repeated efforts to wear down his resistance and make him change his mind.” After noting that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals dedicated only two paragraphs to analyzing the question, the federal court concludes that the state court was unreasonable in saying that Marshall didn’t unambiguously invoke his right to silence, and that it was Marshall’s unconstrained choice–rather than the officers’ failure to follow Miranda–that led to the resumption of the interrogation:

instead of “scrupulously honoring” Marshall’s invocation of his right to cut off questioning, Detective Petropoulos attempted to change his mind by asking him, “so you’re going to let other people talk for you?” When Marshall persisted, saying, “I’m through talking. I ain’t going to talk no more,” the detectives tried to suggest that, rather than cutting off further questioning, Marshall was simply asking for a break. Detective Petropoulos said, “Well, okay; We’ll take a little break then;” and proceeded to offer Marshall the use of the restroom or something to drink. When Marshall declined, Detective Petropoulos said, “All right. You think about things, okay? And we’ll be back in a couple of minutes.” Detective Braunreiter added, “All right. We’ll be right back, okay?” and Detective Petropoulos announced, “End of interview at this time.”

(Slip op. at 28). Later, after Marshall again said he had nothing to say to the officers, they nevertheless continued to talk with him about sports and various other matters before veering back into trying to convince him to talk about the homicide investigation. To this, the federal court says that “[p]olice do not scrupulously honor an accused’s invocation of his right to remain silent by first diverting the accused with small talk and then trying to convince him to change his mind and answer questions.” (Slip op. at 32). The court accordingly holds it was unreasonable not to suppress Marshall’s statements during this interrogation.

However, after many hours, there was a shift change, and two other officers took over the handling of Marshall. They, unlike the first two, immediately ceased any interrogation when Marshall asked to stop, and only resumed after he, unprompted, asked to talk more. The court holds, though, that pursuant to Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), and Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985), Marshall’s statements to these officers must also be suppressed. Unlike in Elstad, the violations here were not inadvertent or technical but were egregious. Also, the confessions Marshall made to the first set of detectives were substantial, and his later statements mostly served to reiterate them. To admit these statements, the court says, would “condone ‘inherently coercive police tactics or methods offensive to due process that render the initial admission involuntary and undermine the suspect’s will to invoke his rights once they are read to him.'” (Slip op. at 41 (citing Elstad, 470 U.S. at 317)).

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