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Md. Case Could Cut Suspects' Rights

Supreme Court To Hear Appeal

By Ray Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page B02

DEATH PENALTY, the charge read.

"I bet you want to talk now, huh?" an officer told the cold, tired 17-year-old accused of a brutal carjacking and murder in downtown Annapolis.

A half-hour later, the defendant did, telling police he was there but wasn't the gunman.

_____History of the Blake Case_____

Sept. 19, 2002: Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, is fatally shot in Annapolis as he unloads groceries from his Jeep Cherokee.

October 2002: Leeander Blake, 17, and Terrence Tolbert, 19, are charged with the killing.

June 2003: Circuit Court Judge Pamela North throws out an incriminating statement by Blake, made after he asked for an attorney.

September 2003: Circuit Court Judge Ronald Silkworth throws out incriminating statements by Tolbert, saying police should have re-read his Miranda rights.

February 2004: Maryland Court of Appeals overturns Silkworth's decision, reinstates Tolbert's statements.

May 2004: Court of Appeals upholds North's ruling in Blake case, forcing prosecutors to drop charges against Blake.

October 2004: U.S. Supreme Court declines to review Tolbert's case.

January 2005: Tolbert is convicted of first-degree murder, subsequently sentenced to life in prison.

April 2005: U.S. Supreme Court agrees to review Blake case.
The Washington Post

More than two years later, some legal experts believe that the case of Leeander Jerome Blake may give the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to reexamine the decision that has governed police interrogations for more than two decades: Edwards v. Arizona.

A descendant of the landmark 1966 Miranda decision that forced officers to read suspects their rights, the court's 1981 ruling in Edwards went further, dictating that once a defendant invokes those rights and asks for an attorney, all interrogation must stop until an attorney is present.

Defendants who change their mind must do so voluntarily and must initiate the conversation with police.

The high court agreed Monday to hear the Blake case to consider whether the Maryland Court of Appeals was correct last year when it threw out Blake's statement to police and ordered him freed.

The question before the court: When police officers violate Edwards, can they take corrective action to ensure that the defendant's constitutional rights remain intact?

"If the court is very lenient in treating this, it could create a significant hole in the protection Miranda provides," said Georgetown University law professor David Cole. "If they were to too broadly construe the concept of suspects' initiating conversations, it could create an end run around Miranda rights."

Law enforcement officials said a court ruling could provide needed guidance on Miranda and Edwards rules and help them preserve a case even after committing what they consider minor violations of defendants' rights.

"I think it would be a signal from the Supreme Court that there has to be some common sense in reviewing cases like this, that minor errors should not always result in the suppression of evidence," said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations. "Especially when steps are taken to correct the error."

Blake and co-defendant Terrence Tolbert were charged in the Sept. 19, 2002, carjacking and killing of Straughan Lee Griffin outside his home in the historic district of Annapolis.

The crime shocked the city's residents. There hadn't been a murder in the brick-lined historic district since the 1960s.

Tolbert was arrested Oct. 25, 2002. Police roused Blake from his residence at an Annapolis public housing complex at 5 a.m. the following day. Still in his underwear, he was taken to the Annapolis Police Department and read his Miranda rights. Blake said he didn't want to speak without an attorney and was placed in a holding cell.

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