SJC Affirms Suppression of Statements Made More Than Six Hours After Arrest

July 28, 2014
By Parker Scheer LLP on July 28, 2014 10:57 AM |

Last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) reaffirmed a concept it established in 1996 in Commonwealth v. Rosario - known as the "Rosario rule" - which makes any statements made by a defendant more than six hours after his arrest, but before his arraignment, per se inadmissible against him, absent his valid waiver of his right to be arraigned without delay.

In Commonwealth v. Powell, the police suspected the defendant's involvement in a murder that occurred in February 2010. On June 14, 2010, at 1:30 P.M. the police arrested the defendant on charges of larceny of a motor vehicle occurring on the night of the murder. Although the police likely had enough probable cause to charge the defendant with the murder as well, they had not yet been authorized to bring those charges.

The defendant was detained beginning at 2:45 P.M., and was retrieved at 11:45 P.M. (approximately nine hours later) for interrogation. During the interview with police, the defendant spoke about the motor vehicle larceny charges. The officers indicated they wanted to discuss the murder and the defendant's participation in it. The defendant admitted to shooting the murder victim, and made further incriminating statements. Two months later, the defendant was indicted on charges of assault and battery, unlawful possession of a firearm, armed assault with intent to murder, and murder in the first degree.

The defendant moved to suppress the statements made during his interrogation under the Rosario rule. The Rosario rule renders inadmissible custodial statements made more than six hours after arrest and before being brought to court for arraignment. The superior court granted the defendant's motion to suppress, based on the facts that the defendant was not interrogated within six hours of his arrest, there were no exceptions that permitted this delay of more than nine hours, and the defendant did not sign a waiver of his rights to be brought into court promptly. The Commonwealth appealed.

On appeal, the Commonwealth argued that the Rosario rule should no longer be viewed as an effective mechanism to ensure that a defendant is brought promptly before a court, and that a court should look to the totality of the circumstances, as do the majority of states. The Commonwealth also argued that, even under the Rosario rule, the six-hour clock is reset with each criminal charge, and the clock was restarted when the defendant was questioned about the murder-related offenses with which he had not yet been charged.

As the SJC explained, before it established the Rosario rule, courts looked to the totality of the circumstances to determine whether a delay in arraignment was reasonable, such that a defendant's statements made during that delay could be admissible against him. However, the SJC departed from this test in favor of the Rosario rule, which provides a bright-line rule that could serve two important interests: predictability and consistency. In doing so, the SJC recognized that Massachusetts is in fact in the minority of states enforcing this type of rule, but that this "rule of exclusion continues to achieve a just balancing of interests and to serve important goals of the criminal justice system within the Commonwealth."

The SJC rejected the Commonwealth's arguments, and reaffirmed the use of the Rosario rule in Massachusetts and its application in the present case. Accordingly, because the defendant's statements were made more than six hours after his arrest and before his initial arraignment, the SJC affirmed the superior court's suppression of those statements.