SUNBURY — A confession obtained by police from a suspect denied the attorney he requests while in custody, under interrogation and having been read his Miranda rights would be inadmissible in court, a legal expert says.
Murder suspect Miranda Barbour spent more than six hours in Northumberland County Court on Tuesday, when her defense team argued her confession to state police Dec. 2-3 should be thrown out because she was not afforded the attorney she requested at least 12 times.
During the evidence suppression hearing, Ed Greco, Northumberland County chief public defender, grilled Snyder County District Attorney Mike Piecuch, Selinsgrove state trooper Brent Bobb and Sunbury police officer Travis Bremigen about why his client was not provided the attorney after she was read her Miranda rights and she asked repeatedly for legal counsel.
The trio all testified that Barbour was not under arrest at the time she arrived at the barracks and she wasn’t entitled to an attorney.
“Whether the Miranda (rights) case applies is not merely a question of whether or not a suspect is ‘under arrest,’ but rather a two-part test that requires custody plus interrogation,” Edward Olexa said Friday.
Was movement restrained?
The former Luzerne County assistant district attorney-turned-defense attorney said courts look at whether an individual’s freedom of movement was restrained in a significant way, and also whether that individual is being asked questions that are likely to result in an incriminating response.
“If both custody and interrogation are present, and police obtain evidence prior to the suspect waiving any constitutional right he or she might have to protect themselves against incriminating themselves to an attorney, any evidence obtained will be inadmissible in court.”
Olexa said he was not following the Barbour case closely, but agreed to answer legal questions to the best of his ability.
Barbour begged law enforcement authorities at least 12 times to provide her an attorney during her two interviews at the Selinsgrove state police barracks Dec. 2-3 and screamed for representation when her cell phone was forcibly seized.
After being read her Miranda rights early in the first of two trips to the barracks that night, Barbour, 19, of Selinsgrove, was told that because she was not under arrest, a public defender could not be provided to her, according to Tuesday’s suppression hearing testimony.
Without an attorney present and having been read rights that stated she was entitled to one, Barbour continued to be interviewed while being denied legal counsel, Greco contends.
She was not provided an attorney until more than 12 hours after her first appearance at Selinsgrove, when she was taken to the Sunbury Police Department, arrested and charged in the Nov. 11 slaying of Troy LaFerrara, of Port Trevorton.
During the second interview at the barracks, Barbour admitted to killing LaFerrara in self-defense, according to those who questioned her.
Questioning must stop after counsel plea
“Once an individual asks for an attorney, all police questioning must stop, unless police honor the request and stop questioning, but then afterwards obtain a waiver of those rights,” Olexa said. “Even the passage of time does not allow officers to resume questioning. Officers cannot question a suspect until the suspect’s lawyer is present.”
Olexa, who has been involved in murder cases, said he considers homicide detectives to be God’s representatives on Earth.
“Although the legal standards may be the same, extra precautions should be taken to ensure that any evidence obtained will ultimately be admissible in court,” Olexa said. “Also, in homicide cases, we see more challenges to evidence, even smaller pieces of evidence, since the stakes are so high for the defendant.”