The mission of the Connecticut Judicial Branch is to serve the interests of justice and the public by resolving matters brought before it in a fair, timely, efficient and open manner.

Criminal Law Supreme Court Opinion

by Booth, George


SC19980 - State v. Purcell ("In Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 459–60, 114 S. Ct. 2350, 129 L. Ed. 2d 362 (1994), the United States Supreme Court determined that, after a defendant has been informed of his Miranda rights, the police officers conducting a custodial interrogation have no obligation to stop and clarify an ambiguous invocation by the defendant of his right to have counsel present. Instead, they must cease interrogation only upon an objectively unambiguous, unequivocal invocation of that right. See id. The court recognized that this standard "might disadvantage some suspects who—because of fear, intimidation, lack of linguistic skills, or a variety of other reasons—will not clearly articulate their right to counsel although they actually want to have a lawyer present." Id., 460.

This certified appeal requires us to decide whether the Davis standard was met in this case, and, if not, whether a more protective prophylactic rule is required under the Connecticut constitution. The defendant, Robert John Purcell, appeals from the Appellate Court's judgment affirming his conviction of three counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21. We conclude that the defendant's statements during interrogation did not meet Davis' "clear and unequivocal" standard so as to require suppression of subsequent inculpatory statements under the federal constitution. We further conclude, however, that the Connecticut constitution does not condone a rule that could disadvantage the most vulnerable of our citizens. We hold that, to adequately safeguard the right against compelled self-incrimination under article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution, police officers are required to clarify an ambiguous request for counsel before they can continue the interrogation. Because no such clarification was elicited in the present case and the failure to do so was harmful, we conclude that the defendant is entitled to a new trial.")