"I Don't Want to Talk" Sufficient to Invoke Right to Remain Silent

April 14, 2014
By Parker Scheer LLP on April 14, 2014 7:25 PM |

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reversed a superior court judge's denial of a motion to suppress statements made by a defendant after he invoked his right to remain silent. The SJC found that the defendant sufficiently indicated to the interrogating officer that he was invoking that right.

In Commonwealth v. Hearns, the defendant was charged with the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy and the wounding of a fifteen-year-old boy in Jamaica Plain. The police suspected that the boys were shot in connection with a feud between two rival gangs in the area. According to their investigation, the defendant had admitted to a witness that he and others drove up to a basketball court on Heath Street, and the defendant, at the direction of older members in his gang, approached the victims, shot at them multiple times, and fled back to the vehicle and drove away. The defendant had also allegedly admitted his participation in the murder to another witness. That witness agreed to cooperate with the police, and consented to wearing a concealed recording device. During a recorded conversation between the defendant and the cooperating witness in an automobile, the defendant described how he committed the shooting.

The defendant was arrested and read his Miranda rights. He then consented to the interview being recorded. The interrogating officer informed the defendant that their investigation revealed that he had committed the murder. The defendant admitted being a member of the gang, but denied any feud. He then immediately asked, "Can you tell me how you guys got this case together?" The investigating officer declined to do so, and the defendant stated, "Well then, I don't want to talk. I haven't got nothing to say." The officer continued to speak to the defendant about the allegations, implying that if it was an accident, and the defendant admitted as much, then the defendant might only be convicted of manslaughter. In response, the defendant stated, "I didn't shoot nobody." The officer continued to ask questions and elicit responses from the defendant, until the defendant indicated that he would not say anything further.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress both the recorded statements made in the automobile to the witness and the statements he made to police following the arrest. The superior court judge denied the motion as to both sets of statements. On interlocutory appeal, the SJC affirmed the judge's decision with respect to the recorded statements, holding that the recording properly fell within the one-party consent exception to the wiretap statute, as the Commonwealth's "decision to intercept [the conversation] was made on the basis of a reasonable suspicion that interception would disclose or lead to evidence of a designated offense in connection with organized crime."

However, the SJC reversed the judge's decision as to the defendant's post-arrest statements. Under federal and state constitutional law, prior to custodial questioning, a defendant must be given Miranda warnings, which include the defendant's right to remain silent. A defendant may knowingly and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights, permitting police to question him. But if a defendant either requests an attorney or invokes his right to remain silent, the questioning must cease.

The SJC held that the defendant's statement, "Well then, I don't want to talk. I haven't got nothing to say," "was a clear invocation of his right to remain silent." The statement came just moments after he waived his Miranda rights, which indicated "an immediate unwillingness to talk." Following this statement, the defendant largely remained silent while the officer repeatedly attempted to persuade the defendant to continue answering his questions. According to the SJC, the defendant's statement fell well within the bounds of the types of statements Massachusetts courts have recognized a clear and unequivocal invocation of the right to remain silent.

The SJC also opined that, had the officer been uncertain as to whether the defendant was asserting his right to remain silent, the officer should have attempted to clarify what the defendant's statement had intended. Additionally, the SJC rejected the superior court judge's finding that the defendant's statement was merely a negotiating ploy, attempting to bargain for the Commonwealth revealing its evidence against him in exchange for him answering the officer's questions. Rather, the SJC found, "When considering the statement in context, it is clear that the defendant invoked his right to remain silent and gave his reason for doing do - namely, an unwillingness to talk to police because they would not reveal the evidence against him."

As a result, the SJC reversed the lower court's ruling as to the post-arrest statements, thereby ordering that those statements be suppressed from evidence at the defendant's trial because they were obtained in violation of the defendant's Miranda rights.