Tasers and Miranda Rights

A new study done of 142 volunteers suggests that people who have recently been tasered show a big drop in cognitive and memory function. This is very important for criminal cases involving confessions, because many times police officers question suspects immediately after arrest, and police officers are increasingly using tasers to subdue suspects. Suspects with a lowered cognitive and memory function could be agreeing to interviews when they otherwise wouldn’t. They could be confessing to things that aren’t true. They could be waiving their Miranda rights unknowingly and unintelligently.

Florida’s law on Miranda and questioning suspects is pretty clear:

if the suspect indicates in any manner that he or she does not want to be interrogated, interrogation must not begin or, if it has already begun, must immediately stop. If the suspect indicates in any manner that he or she wants the help of a lawyer, interrogation must not begin until a lawyer has been appointed and is present or, if it has already begun, must immediately stop until a lawyer is present. Once a suspect has requested the help of a lawyer, no state agent can reinitiate interrogation on any offense throughout the period of custody unless the lawyer is present, although the suspect is free to volunteer a statement to police on his or her own initiative at any time on any subject in the absence of counsel.

A waiver of a suspect’s constitutional rights must be voluntary, knowing, and intelligent, and, where reasonably practical, prudence suggests it should be in writing…. any statement obtained in contravention of these guidelines violates the Florida Constitution and may not be used by the State.

From Traylor v. State.

But while the clinical and sterile case law instructions on Miranda are clear, the practical real-world applications are anything but. Nine times out of ten there are only two witnesses to a police officer interviewing and obtaining a confession from a suspect: the officer and the suspect. Even when there is a recording of the confession, there are only two witnesses to the events leading up to the interview and confession: the officer and  the suspect. Bodycams are making a dent into this problem, but could we have been ignoring a larger problem all along?