Shocked by an unexpected arrest, you assert your right to have an attorney represent you and remain silent. You show a police officer a card that says you don’t want to answer any questions until you talk with an attorney. The card is addressed to police, and bears the name of an attorney.
Nonetheless, police persist in asking questions. They acknowledge the attorney’s “assertion of rights” card, but ask if you really want to ignore their questions. Eventually, you yield to pressure and provide answers.
Are those answers admissible as evidence, since police continued questioning you after you asked for an attorney? A recent 10th Circuit Court decision addressed this situation. While the facts of each case are different, this latest case suggests federal courts in this region are inclined to recognize defendants’ rights to counsel.
In U.S. v. Santistevan a defendant handed police a letter from his attorney stating that he did not want to answer their questions. Police told the defendant it was up to him whether or not he wanted to talk to them. He began answering their questions, implicating himself in robberies they were investigating.
The trial court suppressed his statements, and the prosecution appealed. The 10th Circuit determined his answers were not admissible as evidence because they were obtained after he asked to talk with his attorney.
The decision trends away from recent rulings that have left it up to suspects to assert their intention not to talk with police. Under previous court rulings, a person’s silence alone was not enough to stop police from asking questions. Courts have held that a person must explicitly assert their right to an attorney to stop police from continuing to ask questions. Courts have also allowed police to resume interrogation when a person volunteers on their own to talk with police after invoking their right to remain silent or to have an attorney present during questioning. In this week’s ruling, the Court emphasized that police can’t badger a suspect into waiving their rights after a person has asserted those rights.
Whether you are obligated to provide police information in any particular circumstance is a question best considered in the context of those circumstances. If police want to ask you questions, you have a right to an attorney. Whether talking to police would be in your best interests is a question for a skilled criminal defense attorney who knows the facts of your case. Unless you are absolutely certain the information police seek can’t be used against you in any way, it’s usually a good idea exercise your right to an attorney an d to seek the advice of a criminal defense lawyer.
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