LEOs and the law: Staying current on court cases

Fifty years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona, rulings related to the 'right to remain silent' occur somewhat regularly

Wednesday marked the 50-year anniversary of the arrest of Ernesto Miranda by the Phoenix Police Department — an event which ultimately led to the  landmark United States Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona — and as we saw this week, rulings related to the “right to remain silent” occur somewhat regularly.

A Florida appeals court ruled that although a barricaded suspect has the right to remain silent during a standoff, cops have no obligation to tell him that during phone negotiations.

With judges and juries constantly considering all manner of legal matters, cops need to keep current on changes to the law made from the bench.

Excellent Resources Available
First and foremost, you already rely on your agency’s legal team for guidance, but there are also a number of other resources available to you.

We do our best to keep you up to date on big court cases — Columnists Ken Wallentine, Terry Dwyer, and Joanne Eldridge regularly contribute commentary on the ways in which decisions may affect you on patrol.

Further, regular readers know that every year we do an annual recap of Supreme Court decisions affecting cops:

SCOTUS 2012 
SCOTUS 2011 

“I believe the best way for law enforcement officers to keep up on their state’s case law is to focus on their state's court(s) of appeals and follow what they are doing,” Eldridge told me recently. 

Eldridge since has relocated to a state on the eastern seaboard, but when she practiced law in Colorado, she would scan the website of that state’s appeals court on a weekly basis, looking over new decisions for criminal law cases.

“Though I can’t speak for all such websites,” Eldridge added, “Colorado’s courts website was very user friendly with hotlinks to all of the reported cases and headnote-type summaries so that you don't have to read the whole case to see if it's about something of relevance or interest to you.”

There are other websites which merit your attention, of course. One of my favorite online resources for matters related to case law (as well as pending and already passed legislation) is the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE) website. In addition to hosting an annual conference, AELE.org maintains a great list of links to a variety of legal libraries and the like.  

Another excellent resource is FindLaw — in particular, this resource has links to all U.S. jurisdictions, where you can input your state and see statutes as well as recent cases. I’m also a fan of their Blog.

The American Bar Association website has lots of links and articles about legally-newsworthy events. I also recommend bookmarking Leagle  and the Legal Information Institute open-source site maintained by the Cornell University Law School. 

For U.S. Supreme Court commentary, analysis, and general coverage of what the Court is doing, check out SCOTUS Blog and Opinions Page for copies of the opinions themselves.

There’s a pretty high probability that your agency already subscribes to and uses Lexis Nexis, but you might consider getting in touch with the folks over at Municode.com  to inquire about their services as well. 

In Miranda, a single typewritten paragraph atop a Phoenix PD form proved to be a game-changer for cops across the country, and there are numerous other decisions affecting cops every year on decades-old rulings.

I’ve listed just a few ways I try to stay informed. Please help do a service to your fellow officers by listing whatever recommendations you’ve got in the comments area below

Wait, What About Florida?
I don’t want to leave you hanging, so let’s briefly recap the abovementioned Florida case of a barricaded suspect named Erin Atac, who during a standoff had apparently called Broward Sheriffs deputies via phone at least two times.

During one conversation, Atac said he made his dad beg for his life before slashing his throat.

That phone call proved pivotal to a conviction, because despite objections by the defense, the court allowed the recordings to be heard, and Atac was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18-and-a-half years in prison. 

The Florida appeals court “was asked to decide whether a suspect who is barricaded and surrounded by police is effectively in custody and entitled to a Miranda warning,” according to the Sun Sentinel

Judge Cory Ciklin determined that Atac was not in custody during the standoff and could have elected to hang up the phone at any point he wanted.

His words were held against him. 

Atac and his legal team are contemplating an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

We’ll keep you posted, of course, but if you stay as current as possible on this stuff, maybe you will notify me via email of any new updates to the case.

Stay safe my friends. 

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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