WASHINGTON (CN) - A tricky argument over the reach of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel started out the Supreme Court's Fall agenda on Monday in a challenge to a lower court court decision suppressing a failed polygraph test in the case of a man accused of abusing his son.
Michael Blaine Shatzer was initially questioned while in prison about charges that he had ordered his three-year-old son to give him oral sex in 2003. Shatzer asked for a lawyer.
The detective stopped questioning and told Shatzer to contact him when he had a lawyer. Shatzer did not get a lawyer and did not contact the detective.
Over two and a half years later, another detective who reopened the sex investigation questioned Shatzer again about the past offense. This time, Shatzer agreed to waive his Miranda rights and agreed to take a polygraph test that he failed.
The entire time, Shatzer was serving time in prison for another sexual offense.
Shatzer later motioned to suppress the incriminating statements and the failed polygraph test obtained during the second interrogation, but the request was denied in district court and the evidence was used in Shatzer's ultimate conviction for sexual child abuse.But the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the evidentiary ruling and said the polygraph results and the incriminating statements should not have been admitted.
The question revolved around whether the rule of Edwards v. Arizona decision, which prevents continued questioning after a request for counsel, was violated by the policeman interrogating Shatzer who had initially invoked the right to counsel while imprisoned on a separate charge.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the petitioner, argued that the statements and the failed polygraph test had been obtained legally.
Respondent Celia Davis, an assistant public defender, maintained that the rule laid out in Edwards had been violated.
In Edwards, the Court declared that in cases where the suspect has been in continuous custody, "if a suspect requests counsel at any time during the intervention, he is not subject to further questioning until a lawyer has been made available or the suspect himself reinitiates conversation."
The rule laid down by Edwards was intended to keep police from badgering the suspect into accusing himself.
Any information obtained in violation of the rule cannot be used in court.
Gansler, who argued that the incriminating statements should be admitted in the court, claimed that releasing Shatzer "back to his daily routine," which happened to be a prison life, counted as a release from custody.
He added that two years and seven months of having the case closed is long enough to show police weren't badgering Shatzer.
But Justice Anthony Kennedy had difficulty buying the argument that Shatzer was released from custody when he went back to his prison cell. "The possibilities for coercion or pressure are very substantial in the prison. The warden comes in and says 'Oh, your cell doesn't have a window.' I think that's a very difficult rule that you are proposing."
Many of the justices appeared concerned about why Shatzer was not provided with a lawyer.
Justice John Paul Stevens in particular was focused on the issue. He asked whether the police, when reading the Miranda rights, say a lawyer will be provided.