The Supreme Court yesterday created a new exception to the controversial Miranda rule, saying that if a suspect confesses before police warn him of his rights, the confession can be used if the suspect repeats it after a warning.
The 6-to-3 decision is the second major exception the court has created in nine months to its watershed 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. That decision required that, before police questioning, suspects be advised of their rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present.
It was designed to ensure that suspects are not coerced into confessing or providing incriminating information.
In other action yesterday, the high court struck down state residency requirements for attorneys and ruled that the Oneida Indian Nation in New York and other states can sue for damages for land taken from them in 1795.
Writing for the majority in the confession decision, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor emphasized that the court "in no way retreats from the bright-line rule of Miranda."
"A simple failure [by police] to administer the warnings," O'Connor said, "unaccompanied by any actual coercion," did not "taint" the second confession so that police would be barred from using it at trial. The first confession, however, still could not be used, she said.
Despite those assurances, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall, accused the majority of "deliver[ing] a potentially crippling blow to Miranda and the ability of courts to safeguard the rights of persons accused of crime." Brennan said the court was engaged "in a studied campaign to strip the Miranda decision piecemeal."
In the Miranda case, police in Salem, Ore., armed with a warrant, arrested Michael James Elstad, 18, in his parents' home, charging him with the burglary of a neighbor's home.
They did not tell Elstad that he was under arrest and did not advise him of his rights before questioning him about the burglary. During the questioning, Elstad admitted that he was present during the burglary. He was taken to the police station and read his rights. He confessed again, this time in writing.
State prosecutors agreed that the first confession could not be used at trial, but a state trial judge permitted use of the written confession and Elstad was convicted.
A state appeals court reversed the conviction, saying that after the first confession, the "cat was sufficiently out of the bag to exert a coercive impact on Elstad's later admissions."
Reversing that decision, O'Connor said Elstad's first confession, "though technically in violation of Miranda, was voluntary. It took place in midday, in the living room area of Elstad 's own home with his mother in the kitchen area, a few steps away."
Lower courts, she said, should avoid a "rigid rule" in Miranda cases and look at the circumstances in deciding whether a confession was voluntary and could be used in trial.
Justice John Paul Stevens said that even if the latest exception to Miranda was narrow, it was inconsistent with past decisions and will "breed confusion and uncertainty in the administration of criminal justice."
O'Connor said the case presented a "procedural violation" of Miranda.
But Stevens said the Fifth Amendment's ban against self-incrimination was, "like many other provisions of the Bill of Rights . . . a procedural safeguard. It is, however, the specific provision that protects all citizens from the kind of custodial interrogation that was onced employed by the Star Chamber, by the Germans of the 1930s and early 1940s and by some of our own police departments only a few decades ago."
In its decision striking down state residency requirements for lawyers, the court said they are unconstitutional unless states can prove there is a "substantial" reason for banning out-of-state lawyers.
The 8-to-1 ruling is likely to have an immediate effect on more than 20 states that have some form of residency requirement. An Alexandria federal judge last year struck down Virginia's requirement. There is no such requirement in Maryland or the District of Columbia.
Proponents of the residency requirements argued that out-of-state lawyers would not keep informed of state laws and rules and that large law firms from distant states might wield too much influence over the local bar.
Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., writing for the majority in New Hampshire v. Piper, rejected those arguments. Powell said "the practice of law is important to the national economy" and should not be restricted by residency rules.
The court, opening the way for multimillion dollar compensation to Indian tribes, ruled 5 to 4 that the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Wisconsin and Canada had a right to compensation for lands improperly bought from them in 1795. Indian representatives yesterday called the ruling a "great victory," saying it enhanced their claims to 5 million acres in the middle of New York State. (County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York State.)
In a unanimous ruling, the court said passengers injured on international flights cannot sue airlines for damages unless they can show that the injuries were cause by unusual or unexpected events. (Air France v. Saks.)