Wednesday, September 26, 2001
Ninth Circuit Narrows Restrictions on Initiating Questioning of Suspects
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A criminal defendant who invoked her Miranda right to silence, and was later questioned without an attorney by law enforcement officials after her cellmate told them the defendant had something to say, lost her bid yesterday to have her subsequent statements suppressed.
A divided Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that the questioning of Michelle Lyn Michaud after she was brought to officials did not violate Edwards v. Arizona. Edwards bars police from initiating questioning once the defendant asks for counsel or otherwise declines to speak.
Under the particular facts of Michaud’s case, Judge Raymond Fisher wrote, Michaud rather than the officers can be deemed to have initiated the new questioning.
In fact it was the cellmate, Teresa Agoroastos, who approached jail guards and said Michaud was upset and needed to talk to someone about a murder. Michaud did not say anything. She was sent to a holding cell where she waited for an hour, and then met with an FBI agent.
The agent, Christopher Campion, said he had heard there was something Michaud needed to get off her chest and asked if it was true. She replied that it was, and the interview proceeded.
Campion said then asked for and got a Miranda waiver, and interviewed Michaud for nine hours. Later interviews followed.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt said in dissent that there was no evidence Michaud ever told Agoroastos that she wanted to talk to the police. She merely told her cellmate that she was scared and was in a lot of trouble. It was Agoroastos who made the decision that Michaud needed to talk with someone, Reinhardt said.
Even if it can be assumed that Michaud really wanted to talk with someone, Reinhardt said, there was no good reason to believe it was the police with whom she wished to have her conversation.
“Obviously, it is far more likely that if Michaud really ‘needed to talk to somebody,’ it was to the lawyer to whom she had said she wanted to speak two days earlier, even before her circumstances worsened,” Reinhardt said.
But Fisher, in an opinion joined by Judge Pamela Ann Rymer, stressed the fact that Michaud was there with her cellmate when the guards were told that she had something to say. She could have objected, Fisher said, but didn’t.
“Taken together, Michaud’s going with Agoroastos to the gate as Agoroastos initiated communication with [a deputy], her apparent agreement with Agoroastos’ assertion that Michaud had ‘information about a murder’ she wanted to talk about and Michaud’s subsequent behavior and response to Campion’s initial inquiry all indicated she wanted to talk to the authorities,” Fisher said. “We therefore hold that the questioning of Michaud was initiated by her, not the police.”
The case is U.S. v. Michaud, 99-10440.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company