Police must stop questioning a suspect when he clearly states that he wants a lawyer present. According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Arizona,
A suspect who has expressed his desire to deal with police only through counsel is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges or conversations.Edwards, 451 U.S. at 484-484.
The suspect’s desire for legal counsel must be unambiguous. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has ruled that
if a suspect makes a reference to an attorney that is ambiguous or equivocal in that a reasonable officer in light of the circumstances would have understood only that the suspect might be invoking the right to counsel…precedents do not require cessation of questioning.Commonwealth v. Judge, 420 Mass. at 450.
When a suspect who is in custody asserts his right to an attorney, the police must wait a minimum of 14 days from the time the suspect is released from custody to resume questioning.
When it is determined that a defendant pleading Edwards has been out of custody for two weeks before the contested interrogation, the court is spared the fact-intensive inquiry whether he ever, anywhere, asserted his Miranda right to counsel.Maryland v. Shatzer, 130 S.Ct. at 1223-1224.
Finally, the SJC has refused to determine whether the same rules and safeguards apply when a suspect asserts his right to counsel in a situation that is not custodial (i.e., when the suspect is free to walk away from the police.)
We have “encouraged police to give Miranda warnings prior to the point at which an encounter becomes custodial,”…and we do not decide in this case whether the provision of such warnings binds interrogators to honor scrupulously a suspect’s invocation of his or her Miranda rights outside the context of a custodial interrogation.Commonwealth v. Baye, 462 Mass. 246