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One Court of Justice Blog

June 25, 2014

MSC overrules People v. Bender and holds that police officers are not required to inform a suspect that his attorney has arrived when the suspect validly waives his Miranda rights

In People v. Tanner, Case No. 146211, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled its previous ruling in People v. Bender, 452 Mich 594; 551 NW2d 71 (1996), and held that a police officer’s failure to inform a suspect of the efforts of an attorney to speak or meet with the suspect, does not invalidate the suspect’s otherwise valid Miranda waiver. The Tanner Court’s holding now brings Michigan into conformance with the decision reached by the United States Supreme Court in Moran v. Burbine, 475 US 412; 106 S Ct 1135; 89 L ED 2d 410 (1986).  In Tanner, the court held that Bender was wrongly decided because nothing in the state’s constitution or prior caselaw supported its holding. In so doing, the court reversed the trial court’s suppression of Tanner’s incriminating statements, which was based solely on the rule in Bender, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
 
Tanner was charged with open murder and mutilation of a dead body. After his arrest, Tanner was taken to jail and read his Miranda rights. When police officers attempted to interview Tanner, he invoked his right to counsel. The next day, Tanner informed a jail psychologist that he wanted to “get something off his chest,” and the psychologist subsequently informed the jail administrator that Tanner wished to speak to police officers. The administrator then contacted officers and the prosecutor to inform them that Tanner wished to speak to someone regarding his case and that he wished to obtain an attorney. The prosecutor informed the court of Tanner’s request and an attorney was asked to visit the jail.
 
Police officers and an attorney appeared at the jail. The administrator, unsure of Tanner’s wishes to have an attorney present during the interview, first brought the officers back to speak with Tanner. Before starting the interview, the officers read Tanner his Miranda rights, which he waived without requesting an attorney and without knowing that an attorney was present at the jail. During the interview Tanner made incriminating statements.  After he was charged, Tanner’s attorney filed a motion to suppress his statements to the officers, arguing that because police did not inform Tanner that an attorney was present at the jail before his interrogation, his waiver of Miranda rights was invalid under the holding in Bender. The trial court agreed and suppressed Tanner’s statements. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied the prosecutor’s application for leave to appeal.  The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to reconsider People v. Bender.
 
The court began its analysis with a discussion of the rights provided by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the constitutional protections provided to suspects under Miranda. Inherent in these rights is the right to have an attorney present during custodial interrogation in order to insure that compulsion is not used in obtaining a suspect’s statements. Here, Tanner was read his Miranda rights after reinitiating contact with officers, waived his Miranda rights, and was not informed of the presence of an attorney. The court questioned whether his lack of awareness called into question the validity of Tanner’s waiver, in particular his waiver of his right to counsel.  In Moran v. Burbine, 475 US 412; 106 S Ct 1135; 89 L ED 2d 410 (1986), the United States Supreme Court addressed this very issue and held that “the failure of police to inform a suspect of the efforts of an attorney to reach that suspect does not deprive the suspect of his right to counsel or otherwise invalidate the waiver of his Miranda rights.”

Despite the holding in Moran, the court noted that Michigan reached a different decision in Bender, holding that “for a suspect’s Miranda waiver to be made ‘knowingly and intelligently,’ police officers must promptly inform a suspect that an attorney is available when that attorney has made contact with them.” Ultimately, however, the court determined that Bender was not decided based on constitutional principles as the language of Article 1, § 17 of the state constitution did not support the Bender court’s finding, nor did prior Michigan case law. Rather, in this case, the court determined that the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Self-Incrimination Clause in Moran was proper and should be applied to Article 1, § 17.
 
In light of its determination that Bender was not supported by constitutional principles and prior Michigan case law, the court overruled Bender. In so doing, the court noted that stare decisis is typically the preferred route, but that it is not constrained by precedent that is “unworkable or badly reasoned.” In conformance with Moran, the court held that “[o]nce it is determined that a suspect’s decision not to rely on his rights was uncoerced, that he at all times knew he could stand mute and request a lawyer, and that he was aware of the State’s intention to use his statements to secure a conviction, the analysis is complete and the waiver is valid as a matter of law.” Moran 475 US at 422-423. The court reversed the suppression of Tanner’s incriminating statements and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
 
Justice Cavanagh filed a dissenting opinion as he would have upheld the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Bender. To Justice Cavanagh, Bender reached the right conclusion and created a sound rule that should have been upheld under stare decisis.
 
Justice McCormack also filed a dissenting opinion, disagreeing with the way the majority “reached beyond the facts of the case to overrule Bender’s settled and sound precedent.”

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