If you’ve ever watched Law & Order or another police procedural television show, you might be familiar with a person’s right to remain silent during an arrest. In the real world, “Miranda” rights extend beyond simply not talking and apply to a wide range of encounters with a police officer. In a recent case involving alleged sex crimes in Pinellas County, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals explained that – as they say on TV – a person who isn’t properly apprised of his or her rights can’t have any statements they make to the cops used against them in court. The bottom line is that a person charged with or suspected of a crime should not talk to the police without a seasoned criminal defense attorney by his or her side.The defendant was arrested in Pinellas County and charged with sexual battery after his former stepdaughter told her father that she’d engaged in sexual activity with him when she was nine years old. He was brought to a local police station for an interview. The officer conducting the interview told the defendant that he was going to ask him some questions. The officer also asked him if he understood that he had the right to remain silent, and then he followed up with individual questions to ensure that he understood that anything he said could be used against him, that he had a right to a lawyer, that a lawyer would be appointed if he couldn’t afford representation, and that he could change his mind and exercise any of those rights at any time in the interview. The defendant answered “yes” to each question. He also signed a form explaining those rights.
Before starting the interview, however, the defendant made an offhanded comment to the officer that he “can’t afford a lawyer anyhow.” He went on to make several incriminating statements during the course of the interview. Those statements were entered into the record during his trial, despite his objections. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
On appeal, however, the Second District said the defendant’s statements should not have been used against him because the officer didn’t adequately apprise him of his Miranda rights. Although the officer explained at one point that the defendant could have a lawyer appointed for him under certain circumstances if he could not afford one, the officer didn’t reiterate that fact when he later said he couldn’t afford legal representation.
“An officer cannot simply ignore a comment by a suspect that indicates that the suspect does not fully understand his or her Miranda rights and assume that a waiver predicated on that misunderstanding will be valid,” the court explained. “And faced with, at best, an ambiguity as to whether [the defendant] understood the rights he was waiving, the trial court should have suppressed [his] statement to the detective.”
As a result, the Second District reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. St. Petersburg sexual battery attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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