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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that police, under certain circumstances, can initiate an interrogation of a suspect without the defendant's lawyer being present.
By a 5-4 vote, the conservative majority overruled a 23-year-old Supreme Court decision that barred the police from initiating questioning after a defendant asserted the right to an attorney at an arraignment or similar proceeding.
The 1986 decision held that once a defendant invoked the right to counsel, only the suspect, and not the police, can initiate the contact.
In overruling the 1986 decision, Scalia said, "The considerable adverse effect of this rule upon society's ability to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice far outweighs its capacity to prevent a genuinely coerced agreement to speak without counsel present."
Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, the author of the 1986 decision, disagreed.
In dissent, Stevens said the dubious benefits of overruling the decision are far outweighed by damage to the rule of law and the integrity of the constitutional right to an attorney.
Citing a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Montoya v. Collins, 955 F. 2d 279 (1992), the Louisiana Supreme Court reasoned that the prophylactic protection of Jackson is not triggered unlessand until the defendant has actually requested a lawyer orhas otherwise asserted his Sixth Amendment right tocounsel. 974 So. 2d, at 1260–1261, and n. 68. Because Montejo simply stood mute at his 72-hour hearing while the judge ordered the appointment of counsel, he had made no such request or assertion. So the proper inquiry,the court ruled, was only whether he had knowingly,intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to havecounsel present during the interaction with the police. Id., at 1261. And because Montejo had been read his Miranda rights and agreed to waive them, the Court answered that question in the affirmative, 974 So. 2d, at 1262, and up-held the conviction.