MA SJC Expands Defendants’ Rights by Excluding Any Statements Made Six Hours After Arrest

By Brian Pasquale, Law Clerk

Under a rule first established in Commonwealth v. Rosario[1] (“the Rosario rule”), if an individual under arrest makes a statement more than six hours after the arrest, the statement is inadmissible in evidence due to a delay in arraignment.  In Commonwealth v. Fotunato[2], the Supreme Judicial Court, the top court in Massachusetts, affirmed this principle after a defendant made statements to an officer more than six hours after the defendant was arrested and given his Miranda rights.  (View the opinion of the court here)

In the case at hand, the defendant was arrested on suspicion of a bank robbery that had occurred.  After being administered his Miranda warnings, the defendant declined to speak with the officers and was transported to a holding cell.  Later that evening, more than six hours after being arrested, the defendant requested to speak to the officers.  The officers brought the defendant to an interview room, and without providing the defendant with any type of waiver; the officers began questioning him resulting in the statements in question.

The Rosario rule sets out to provide protection for a defendant’s right to prompt arraignment and presentment.  Prior to the rule being established, the duty to arraign a defendant was “as soon as is reasonably possible.”  By creating an unambiguous temporal boundary in which police may question defendants, the rule creates a bright-line rule for prosecutors, judges, police and defense attorneys.  The Commonwealth argued in this case that because the remarks were unsolicited and spontaneous, the statements were not the result of police pressure.  While the SJC declined to rule on whether the Rosario rule applies to statements that are not the product of police questioning, the court made clear that the purpose of the Rosario rule is not to solely deter improper police questioning.  The Rosario rule also provides assurance that individuals arrested will be able to consult counsel as well as be made aware of the alleged charges by a judge or magistrate.  Second, the SJC declined to accept the Commonwealth’s argument that the statements were not made as part of police questioning.  The defendant had been questioned four hours earlier, remained in the custody of the same police department and same police station without arraignment or an intervening event and the interviewing officer was aware the defendant wished to discuss the pending charges, thus being considered an “interview.”

While the SJC did not provide clear guidance on the issue of whether statements made six hours after being arrested that are not considered police questioning will be suppressed, the court made clear the importance of a defendant’s right to be arraigned.  Additionally, by stating that the Rosario rule is in place to provide other protections aside from improper police questioning, it provides incentives for police officers to follow the proper procedures upon arresting an individual.

[1] 422 Mass. 48, 56 (1996)

[2] SJC-11314 (October 3, 2013)