Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96 (1975)

The power of a criminal suspect to refuse to answer police questions is well known. The police may not question suspects who have invoked their so-called Miranda right to silence. But does the Miranda right to silence mean that the police are foreclosed at some later time from seeking a suspect’s waiver of that right? That is the question the Supreme Court addressed in Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96 (1975).

Mosley was arrested for several robberies and received the requisite Miranda warnings. He invoked his right to silence and the police did not try to change his mind. Two hours later, at another location within the precinct, another detective sought to question Mosley about an unrelated murder. Mosley was again told of his right to remain silent and thereafter gave an incriminating statement. The Supreme Court had two paths it could take in addressing Mosley’s argument that the second interrogation violated his right to silence: Miranda’s right to silence disallows any and all questioning once that right has been invoked; or the suspect’s invocation of the right to silence mandates only the immediate cessation of questioning, but that a resumption of interrogation would in appropriate circumstances be permitted after some passage of time. The Court chose the latter path, ruling against Mosley and, in so doing, clarifying what Miranda actually offers a criminal suspect.

‘‘The critical safeguard [of Miranda],’’ the Court said, ‘‘is a person’s right to ‘cut off questioning.’’’ That power effectively gives the suspect the ability to control the flow of the interrogation. The rule that police interrogators must ‘‘scrupulously honor’’ a suspect’s invocation of the right to silence—that is, to refrain from further questioning—‘‘counteracts the coercive pressures of the custodial setting.’’ The power to control the flow of the interrogation does not mean any and all police-initiated questioning is forever foreclosed. As long as a reasonable amount of time has passed—a cooling-off period, if you will— and fresh warnings are given, the resumption of questioning may not violate the ‘‘scrupulously honor’’ test. Suspects may again insist that questioning cease or they may now change their minds and answer questions. What Mosley reflects is the view that the coercion that so concerned the Court in Miranda is deflated when the suspect is given a genuine power to cease interrogation whenever it becomes too oppressive. This means the line between voluntary and involuntary statements is one drawn by the suspects.

DANIEL R. WILLIAMS

References and Further Reading

  • Dressler, Joshua. Understanding Criminal Procedure, 3rd ed. 2002.
  • Michigan v. Mosley, 423 U.S. 96 (1975).

See also Exclusionary Rule; Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); Miranda Warning; Self-Incrimination (V): Historical Background

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