Supreme Court considers police questioning techniques
By GINA HOLLAND
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON- The Supreme Court considered Tuesday whether police tricked a Maryland teenager into answering questions about a murder in a case that will give authorities guidelines for dealing with suspects who demand to see an attorney but then talk anyway.
The teen in the high court case, Leeander Jerome Blake, was left in a cold cell, shoeless and in his underwear, after asking to see a lawyer.
He was then shown paperwork that wrongly said he faced the death penalty. An officer told him, "I bet you want to talk now, huh?" Because Blake was 17 at the time, he was ineligible for a death sentence.
Maryland assistant attorney general Kathryn Grill Graeff acknowledged that the officer made a mistake in trying to initiate a conversation with Blake, but she said it was not serious enough to warrant throwing out incriminating statements that Blake made later.
The Supreme Court will use the case to clarify how much discretion police have to question suspects once they've exercised their right to remain silent.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that the officer seemed to try to throw Blake off balance, or badger him.
At the same time, he and other justices were skeptical of the argument made by Blake's lawyer, Kenneth Ravenell, that once a police officer initiates an improper questioning there is no way to correct it.
Blake was one of two people charged with the murder of Straughan Lee Griffin, who was shot in the head in 2002 during a carjacking in front of his home in Annapolis, Md.
Graeff said that the officer who tried to engage Blake was immediately interrupted by a detective who said that the suspect wanted an attorney. She said Blake willingly talked to police 30 minutes later.
"There's no question he wanted to begin talking," she said.
Ravenell said the court should discourage police abuse, by making it hard for mistakes in questioning to be corrected. He said suspects are better served when they have their lawyers present for interrogations.
The Bush administration is backing Maryland in the case. If Maryland loses the appeal, it will not be able to put Blake on trial, Graeff told justices.
New Chief Justice John Roberts seemed ready to back Maryland in the case. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring, expressed concerns about forced confessions.
The case is Maryland v. Blake, 04-373.
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