Sidestepping Miranda

Several years ago I wrote an article going after an appellate court decision out of Washington that, in short, allowed police (in that State, at least) to sidestep the Fourth Amendment and obtain evidence they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get while still abiding by the Constitution. Here, the focus is shifting to the Fifth Amendment and how police were able to get a confession from two suspects, who were also minors at the time of their arrests, without actually talking to them.

The case in question comes out of Florida on a habeas corpus petition to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. In that case, then-16 year-old Jimmie Bowen shot and killed a rival gang member, shot and wounded a second adult, and shot and killed a 10 month-old infant sitting in that second adult’s lap. Bowen and his getaway driver, 17 year-old Bernard Jones, were fingered by one of Bowen’s associates, and they were arrested.

Upon an attempt at questioning, in a very smart move typically not seen out of youths, let alone gang members, Bowen lawyered up and the interrogation ended before it could go anywhere. But here’s where things get shaky: police put Bowen and Jones in the same room pending transfer to a juvenile detention facility. That room was monitored by security cameras with audio recording, and Bowen and Jones started discussing the incident, in short giving police… everything they would need to more-or-less guarantee a conviction.

Quoting the Eleventh Circuit discussing the trial motion to suppress their conversation (note: Solis is the arresting officer):

At the suppression hearing, Solis shared several motivations for putting Bowen and Jones in the room together. He first testified that it was so they could await transportation to the Juvenile Assessment Center. But he later admitted to recognizing that the two suspects might speak to each other about the murders—indeed, hoping they would—and conceded that this possibility informed his decision to put them in the same room.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and that was used as a basis for appeal. After exhausting all State-level options, Bowen appealed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida for habeas corpus relief. And the District Court ruled that Bowen’s Miranda rights were violated. But the Eleventh Circuit reversed.

I’ve written on Miranda numerous times, stating specifically that the Fifth Amendment only protects you from being compelled to self-incriminate, and that it offers no protection when you willingly do so. And with Bowen and Jones, I fully agree there was no compulsion to self-incriminate.

But there’s another question to ponder: what is the likelihood Bowen and Jones would have self incriminated had the police not put them in the same room?

Bowen (and also his mother) asserted his Fifth Amendment rights before being placed into an environment where a confession was expected. It was the actions of the police that led to the confession, not anything Bowen did of his own free will. Had Bowen and Jones not been placed in the same room, it’s likely there never would’ve been any confession.

But as the Eleventh Circuit noted in their decision, Solis put them in the same room hoping they’d talk to each other. The officer hoped to get everything that could have come from an interrogation without needing to actually interrogate. To get everything that could have come from an interrogation after Bowen had asserted his Miranda rights.

The officer intentionally attempted to sidestep Miranda and the Fifth Amendment. And the trial court and now the Eleventh Circuit let it stand.

If this case is appealed to the Supreme Court, I hope they grant certiorari and emphasize that point specifically and rule that Bowen’s Miranda rights were violated. The police should not be allowed to create the environment in which a person willingly self-incriminates after that person has invoked their rights.