December 2, 2013 at 4:30 pm

High Court: Parole officer didn't have to read suspect Miranda rights

Washington —The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a Michigan ruling that said a parole officer didn’t have to read Miranda rights to a suspect before questioning him — even though he had previously asked for an attorney.

Without comment, the court affirmed the Michigan Supreme Court’s 5-2 decision in June that said a suspect in jail didn’t have to be warned of his right to remain silent and right to consult with an attorney before being questioned by a parole officer. The Miranda warnings are part of a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In a decision written by Justice Stephen Markman, the court reversed a state appeals court panel that had ordered a new trial for a suspect, Samuel Lee Elliott, accused of robbing a gas station in Jackson while on parole. Markman said the decision would have “considerably expanded” the reach of Miranda rights.

The appeals court had held “a parole officer is a law enforcement officer for purposes of Miranda, that defendant was in custody when (parole officer Cheryl) Evans interrogated him, and that the statements made by defendant were inadmissible in a subsequent trial [because] the parolee invoked the right to counsel before questioning,” Markman wrote.

In 2006, Elliott was convicted of unarmed robbery and sentenced to 3 to 15 years. In February 2010, he was granted parole.

In June 2010, he was arrested for failing to report to a meeting with his probation officer. Later that day, after advising Elliott of his Miranda rights, a Jackson police officer questioned him about a recent robbery at a Jackson gas station. After answering a few questions, Elliott asked to speak to an attorney.

Four days later, a parole officer visited Elliott in jail to serve notice of several parole violations. Elliott — who had yet to be given access to an attorney — admitted to the gas station robbery, saying a clerk had turned around to get a pack of cigarettes when he demanded the employee give him the money. The parole officer’s testimony was allowed and Elliott was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.

Markman said the questioning — in a jail library — was not a “custodial interrogation,” meaning the Miranda protections don’t apply.

Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young concurred in the judgment, but issued a separate opinion. Justice Bridget McCormack dissented, joined by Justice Michael Cavanagh, saying the reason Elliott was in jail for the parole violation was to give police more time to question him about the robbery.

She argued the “custodial environment established during defendant’s initial police interview as well as his invocation of his right to counsel remained in effect,” meaning the parole officer couldn’t question him about the robbery.