Friday, November 14, 2008

Is the Sixth Circuit Overulling Miranda?

Yesterday, Judge Gilbert Merritt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit wrote quite a fiery dissent in Davie v. Mitchell, suggesting that the Court was effectively overruling Miranda v. Arizona.

The majority in this case is reading the AEDPA statute unlawfully to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in violation of the Suspension Clause of the United States Constitution, Article I, § 9 (“The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”). Here, as I shall explain below, the majority is using the AEDPA statute as a license to overrule Miranda v. Arizona and its lineal progeny developed by the Warren-Brennan Court four decades ago to outlaw coerced confessions that abridge the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The capital defendant invoked both his right to silence and counsel to no avail before he was then enticed to confess.
He concluded his opinion in similar tones:
I . . . dissent from the effort by my colleagues to bury Miranda under a mountain of AEDPA rhetoric. Until the Supreme Court overrules Miranda, we should follow it, no matter how much we prefer to side with the police against the liberties created by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.
What could have Judge Merritt so upset? The decision by Judge John Rogers, joined by Judge Guy Cole, to deny the habeas petition of Roderick Davie, who was sentenced to death for the murder of two people and the attempted murder of a third. Specifically, Judge Merritt believes Davie's confession was obtained in violation of his Constitutional rights to remain silent and have the assistance of counsel.

Here is how Judge Rogers describes the circumstances surrounding the confession.

At approximately 8:30 a.m., Davie was arrested, read his Miranda rights, and transported to the police station. At approximately 9:05 a.m. at the police station, Detective Hill read Davie his Miranda rights with Lieutenant Carl Blevins present. Davie initialed the rights form but refused to sign the waiver. At that point, the officers made no attempt to interrogate Davie. At approximately 9:59 a.m., Captain Downs and Blevins entered the interrogation room and again advised Davie of his Miranda rights. Davie initially made some comments, he ultimately declined to speak further with the officers, and the interview ceased. At approximately 12:15 p.m., authorities again questioned Davie. Davie provided some information to police, including the fact that he had his gun with him that morning, but he did not confess to the crime. At 12:35 p.m., Davie indicated that he had nothing more to say and the interview ceased. At approximately 2:00 p.m., Davie indicated that he wanted to speak with Detective Vingle. After Vingle advised him of his Miranda rights, Davie confessed. See 686 N.E.2d 245, 256 (Ohio 1997). At no time during the relevant events did Davie ask for a lawyer.
Based upon these facts (discussed in far greater detail in Judge Cole's concurrence), and the degree of deference federal courts are required to show state courts under AEDPA, Judges Rogers and Cole concluded Davie's confession was voluntary, particularly because he initiated the discussion with the police that led to the confession. Indeed, "even under a nondeferential analysis," Judge Rogers wrote, "the police did not violate Davie's constitutional rights under Miranda v. Arizona. Judge Merritt obviously disagreed, in part because Davie never signed a waiver of his rights.

This case strikes me as something of a close call, and is largely dependent upon how one characterizes the repeated interactions between Davie and the police. If one thinks these interactions were relatively benign and non-coercive, the majority is correct. If, on the other hand, the repeated interactions with the police were more menacing — Judge Merritt characterizes each interaction as a "confrontation" — then Davie's confession may have been obtained in violation of Miranda. Given the deferential standard of review under AEDPA, however, this means the majority is probably correct as a matter of law. And although I live in the Sixth Circuit, I am not about to lose sleep about this alleged erosion of Miranda. by Jonathan Alder