U.S. Supreme Court

Arguments on This Warning: ‘You Have the Right to a Lawyer Before Answering’

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In oral arguments today, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether a criminal suspect in Tampa, Fla., was adequately informed of his right to a lawyer during his interrogation.

The case, Florida v. Powell, highlights courts’ struggle to determine the adequacy of Miranda warnings that may vary by jurisdiction, according to the Miami Herald and SCOTUSblog.

The case involves a warning given to Kevin Dewayne Powell in August 2004. It included these words: “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.”

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in September 2008 that the warning improperly suggested Powell could only consult with a lawyer before—and not during—questioning. During the interrogation Powell admitted that he owned a gun, violating a law barring felons from owning weapons.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, saying the state supreme court demanded more than the U.S. Supreme Court “ever envisioned or deemed necessary.”

Powell maintains the Florida Supreme Court was correct, and the U.S. Supreme Court should not have granted cert because Florida’s decision was based on an independent state ground—its interpretation of case law based on the state constitution, SCOTUSblog says.

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