Suspect “wasn’t going to say anything at all” half-way through Miranda Rights. | USA v. Abdallah

A suspect who interrupted his Miranda warnings about half-way through by stating that he “wasn’t going to say anything at all” did in fact unambiguously invoked his 5th Amendment right to silence.  His responses to the interrogating officers’ continued questioning after the invocation and the second set of Miranda warnings should have been suppressed.

In this case, the officers chose not to record the interrogation. Instead, one officer interrogated, the second observed, and a third took notes. According to the officers, Special Agent Lewis started the interrogation by reading the Defendant his Miranda rights. Defendant purportedly interrupted “approximately halfway” through to inform the officers that he “wasn’t going to say anything at all.” J.A. 79; see also Abdallah, 196 F.Supp.3d at 600. Agent Lewis responded by stating, “Well, just let me finish your Warning first.” J.A. 79. Immediately after the warning, Agent Lewis asked, “Do you even know why you’re under arrest[?]” Defendant responded, “No, tell me.” J.A. 79. Agent Lewis then repeated the Miranda warning. This time, Defendant did not interrupt, and Defendant indicated that he understood his rights. Defendant subsequently made multiple inculpatory statements.

Here are the things to remember from this case:

  1. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides: “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself[.]” U.S. Const. amend. V.
  2. To protect this constitutional right against self-incrimination, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona established certain “procedural safeguards” that officers must comply with to subject a suspect to custodial interrogation. 384 U.S. 436, 478–79 (1966). First, suspects must be informed of their “right to remain silent” and their “right to the presence of an attorney.” Id. at 444. If a suspect “indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.” Id. at 473–74 (emphases added). Similarly, if a suspect “states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.” Id. at 474. Thus, by invoking either the right to remain silent or the right to counsel, a suspect has the “right to cut off questioning” and officers must cease
    questioning the suspect. Id.
  3. To invoke the right to remain silent or the right to counsel and thereby cut off questioning, the suspect’s invocation must be “unambiguous.” Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 381–82 (2010) (request to remain silent); Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 459 (1994) (request for counsel). An invocation is unambiguous when a “reasonable police officer under the circumstances would have understood” the suspect intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.
  4. When determining whether an invocation is ambiguous, courts can consider whether the “request [itself] . . . or the circumstances leading up to the request would render [the request] ambiguous[.]” Smith v. Illinois, 469 U.S. 91, 98 (1984) (emphasis added). But courts cannot cast ambiguity on an otherwise clear invocation by looking to circumstances which occurred after the request. The Supreme Court held that a defendant’s “postrequest responses to further interrogation may not be used to cast retrospective doubt on the clarity of the initial request itself.” Id.
  5. There is no requirement that Miranda invocations be measured, polite, or free of anger, in the assessment of the officers to whom they are directed. Indeed, a purported invocation that is not assertive enough may be deemed too equivocal to pass muster under Davis, see 512 U.S. at 459; if invocations that are perceived as overly assertive also are disqualified, then suspects will be left to walk a tonal tightrope, with no margin for error on either side.
  6. The government also argues that because the Defendant made his statement before the agent completed the Miranda warnings, he could not have invoked his right to remain silent “knowingly and intelligently.” But there is no requirement that an unambiguous invocation of Miranda rights also be “knowing and intelligent.” That is the standard applied to the waiver of Miranda and other constitutional rights, not to the invocation of such rights.

Read the full opinion at

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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