Intellectual Impairments and Their Impact on an Accused Person’s Waiver of His ‘Miranda’ Rights in Florida

rights tilesWhether you’ve dealt with the criminal justice system or you simply watch crime-themed television programs, you are probably familiar with a person’s Miranda rights. These rights are a very important part of a criminal suspect’s constitutional rights. A suspect has the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel. If the suspect agrees to talk to police without an attorney present, then the suspect is considered to have “waived” his right to remain silent, as well as his right to counsel (during the questioning).

Obviously, one of the major keys to any successful criminal defense is keeping out evidence that is harmful to the defense case. One way that can happen is if the defendant made a statement or confession to police after waiving his Miranda rights, but that waiver wasn’t valid. A valid waiver must be “knowing,” “voluntary” and “intelligent.” There are many ways that a defendant’s waiver can be invalidated, including proof that he was confused, was intoxicated, or that he lacked the intellectual capacity to give a valid waiver. What all this establishes is that, even if a defendant confessed to the police, the defendant may still have options and opportunities to obtain an acquittal. That’s why, if you or a loved one are facing charges, don’t give up and don’t go without counsel; retain an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney to handle the case.

An example of this was on display in a recent case that originated in Polk County. J.W. was, at the time of his arrest, an 18-year-old man with cognitive delays. Two deputies from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office questioned the teen regarding an unsolved sex crime. A sergeant read J.W. his rights and he said he understood. He also signed a waiver form.

The police questioned the teen. He denied committing the crimes, then cried and asked for his “mommy,” then confessed. During a recorded statement, he again denied committing the crimes and then confessed once again. After the confession, several psychologists examined J.W. They determined that he had a third- to fourth-grade reading level, low IQ and was “susceptible to suggestibility.” The charges were later dropped without prejudice and the state re-filed several years later.

In the man’s eventual trial, the court refused to grant the defense request to suppress the confession. The judge rejected the defense’s argument that J.W. did not knowingly and intelligently waive his rights before confessing, and J.W. was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life.

A defendant has to understand the Miranda warning for the waiver to be valid

The appeals court later threw out that conviction and sentence. The appeals court’s ruling stated that the defense was correct in arguing that J.W.’s waiver of his rights was not knowing and intelligent. As the court explained in its decision, “intellectual disability alone does not render a confession involuntary.” However, in this case, there were multiple doctors who testified that J.W. did not understand the Miranda warnings read to him and one who stated that the man “probably never has understood Miranda Warnings.” When one doctor asked J.W. what the right to remain silent meant, he responded, “You have to be quiet until the person says to talk.” All the evidence the defense provided was enough to show a waiver that was not sufficiently knowing and voluntary, which meant that the confessions should have been suppressed.

The law presumes everyone to be innocent until proven guilty, and gives everyone certain constitutional rights to ensure that their prosecution is a fair one. One of those rights is the right to counsel. If you or a loved are facing criminal charges or are being questioned in relation to a crime, exercise your rights. Call the skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. Our attorneys have been helping the accused and their families by providing useful advice and effective advocacy in a wide array of criminal cases. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

More blog posts:

Manatee County Murder Suspect Gets a New Trial Because Police Interviewed Him Without His Lawyer Present, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2018

How an Improper Miranda Warning May Lead to a Reversal of a Criminal Conviction in Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Nov. 28, 2017

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