Court backs detective's words

Language of warning did not violate rights

January 12, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Maryland's highest court ruled yesterday that a Prince George's County detective did not violate the rights of a murder suspect by tweaking the language in the Miranda warning in telling her that if she couldn't afford a lawyer she would get one "at some point."

The Miranda warning, which begins with "You have the right to remain silent," is a fixture in television crime dramas.

State lawyers argued that the detective inserted "at some point" in his recitation to convey to Cindi Renee Katherine Rush, 22, that a public defender was not immediately available and would not "magically appear."

In the ruling, the majority relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's 1981 ruling in California v. Prysock, which concluded that no "rigidity" or "talismanic incantation" is required in a Miranda warning.

"The court discouraged police from deviating from the standard form, but did make clear that no specific words are required to be used, as long as it is conveyed that the suspect has a right to a lawyer prior to and during interrogations," said Kathryn Grill Graeff, chief of the criminal appeals division in the Maryland attorney general's office.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell and Judge Clayton Greene Jr. dissented, arguing that the detective's embellishment was "at best, ambiguous, and at worst, confusing." Bell wrote that it wasn't clear to Rush, who had a ninth-grade education and no prior involvement with the criminal justice system, that she could get a lawyer before any interrogation.

Yes, "all of the requirements were mentioned and all of the bases touched," but Rush didn't "voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently" waive her rights, Bell wrote. Soon after the detective read the warning, Rush asked, "I mean do I need a lawyer or somethin' or is it, am I just in here for ... questioning ... I'm just wonderin' why it's asking if I need a lawyer."

Rush, of Baltimore, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her former employer, Patricia Caniglia. Police allege that Caniglia, 59, was fatally shot by Jeffrey M. Gilbert of Landover, who needed money and was told by Rush that the Caniglias were rich. Police say that Rush drove Gilbert, who she knew had a gun, to the Caniglias' house.

Michael Kaminkow, a Baltimore defense attorney who successfully argued a Miranda violation before the state's second-highest court last year, said that he found the majority opinion problematic.

The detective's statements don't "strictly comply with Miranda," Kaminkow said. "If you can't afford a lawyer, we will supply one. Period. Not that we will supply one at some time. When is that? After you confess?"

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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