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University of Iowa News Release

June 29, 2004

UI Law Professor Says Patane Decision Is Government Victory

UI Professor of Law James Tomkovicz said a decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will give the government more power to collect incriminating evidence from suspects and to use it against them in criminal trials.

In United States v. Patane, a sharply divided court concluded that physical evidence found from statements made by a suspect can be used against the suspect at trial even if the statements themselves are inadmissible because of the interrogating officer's failure to recite the Miranda warnings. A majority of the court could not agree on a rationale for the ruling, but five justices, in two separate opinions, agreed that the use of such physical evidence to incriminate suspects is constitutional.

"It appears the government got virtually everything that it wanted," said Tomkovicz, a criminal procedure expert who wrote an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief urging the justices to maintain broader Miranda protections. "The court's ruling in Patane appears to be a sweeping announcement that no physical evidence will ever be suppressed as a result of law enforcement's failures to comply with Miranda-not even in cases where the failures are deliberate, bad faith efforts to discover such evidence."

Tomkovicz's brief contended that a police officer's failure to comply with the Miranda rules by not reading a suspect his rights tainted the subsequent discovery of a gun in Patane's home and rendered the weapon inadmissible at trial.

In a second Miranda-related decision handed down Monday -- Missouri v. Seibert -- the court held that bad faith efforts to mislead suspects by delaying the delivery of Miranda warnings until after a suspect has first admitted her guilt may well taint additional confessions made after the warnings are belatedly recited. A slim majority of five justices sided with the defendant in Seibert, holding that such bad faith efforts to evade Miranda run the risk of misleading suspects about the nature of the rights she has and can prevent her from knowingly waiving those rights. According to Tomkovicz, "the court seems to have rendered a split decision, diluting Miranda's protections in Patane, but refusing to endorse law enforcement ploys that undercut Miranda's functions in Seibert.

The Patane case stems from an incident involving Samuel Francis Patane of Colorado Springs, Colo. Patane was arrested by one officer for violating a restraining order against contact with his former girlfriend. Another officer, who was investigating allegations that Patane was in illegal possession of a gun, began to deliver Miranda warnings but stopped when Patane said that he knew them. Upon questioning, Patane admitted that he had a gun in his home. Since Patane had previously been convicted of a felony, he was charged with violating a federal law that prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms.

A federal court of appeals ruled that because the officer failed to complete the Miranda warnings, Patane's incriminating statements as well as the gun itself -- a direct product of the statements -- could not be used in his trial. The United States, which conceded in the lower courts that the officer had violated Miranda's requirement that every suspect be informed of his or her rights, took the case to the Supreme Court, claiming that only a suspect's verbal admissions need to be excluded when Miranda is violated. Evidence found as a result of those admissions, according to the government, should never be barred from a trial. Tomkovicz argued that the government's position was contrary to the spirit of the Fifth Amendment and the Miranda doctrine. According to his brief, evidence should be suppressed unless the connection between a Miranda violation and the discovery of evidence has been weakened by the passage of time or intervening events. When the connection is close, as it was in the Patane case, Tomkovicz contended that Miranda requires suppression. Four justices agreed that physical evidence found in violation of Miranda should be subject to exclusion from trial.

This is the fourth Supreme Court case in which Tomkovicz has authored and filed a friend of the court brief. Two terms ago, he supported the prevailing side in Kyllo v. United States, a case that led to the ruling that law enforcement use of a thermal imager on a private home is a search. He was involved earlier in Florida v. J.L., a case in which the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that a stop and frisk of a young man based on an anonymous tip violated the Fourth Amendment. He also participated in an Iowa case that reached the Court. In Knowles v. Iowa, the court ruled that officers do not have the authority to search a vehicle simply because they have cited a driver for a traffic infraction.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu