- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) | Maryland’s highest court has ruled that a prison inmate’s confession to investigators that he molested a child can’t be used against him because he asked for an attorney when he was first questioned in the case nearly three years earlier.

The 5-2 Maryland Court of Appeals decision means that the confession can’t be used as evidence against Michael Shatzer, 50, even though he was informed of his right to remain silent and signed a waiver of that right.

Shatzer was imprisoned at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown for child sexual abuse in 2003, when a social worker told police there was reason to believe he had also abused another child. Shatzer requested an attorney, and the case was soon dropped.

Three years later, the boy was old enough to offer details. According to court documents, when police questioned Shatzer again about the case, he was advised of his rights and signed a form waiving them.

After Shatzer was charged, he filed a motion to suppress his statements, arguing that he had asked for an attorney in the case before and successfully appealed a Washington County Circuit Court ruling that the statements were admissible.

Judges in the majority, concerned with protecting suspects from undue pressure to talk even after requesting an attorney, wrote that because Shatzer was incarcerated, the “coercive pressures driving his [original] request for counsel” were likely still present.

Once an attorney has been requested, one must be provided “even after the passage of two years and seven months, and even if the suspect is housed in a correctional institution,” Celia Anderson Davis, the assistant public defender who argued the case before the Court of Appeals said in a statement.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We don’t agree with the [state] court,” said Chief Deputy Attorney General Katherine Winfree. The law doesn’t “suggest that you can invoke your right to counsel for life.”

The dissent objected to the “boundless” scope of the decision and called the implications for policy “troubling.” Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote in the dissenting opinion that interrogators would have to know whether imprisoned suspects had ever invoked Miranda rights while incarcerated, or risk having evidence excluded.

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