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U.S. Supreme Court to hear local case

August 07, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The U.S. Supreme Court in October will hear a case involving a Hagerstown man's confession in a child-molestation case.

The court will seek to clarify how long a request for a lawyer during police interrogation should be valid.

The case involves Michael Blaine Shatzer Sr., 51, who pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court in 2002 to sexually abusing a juvenile.

The question before the Supreme Court will be if "a break in custody or a substantial lapse in time" after a suspect asks for his Fifth Amendment right to counsel affects whether authorities can question the suspect.

In Shatzer's case, the lapse was nearly three years.

In 2003, while serving a prison term at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown for a sexual abuse conviction, a police investigator questioned him about whether he had abused a second child, according to a brief filed with the Supreme Court.

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Shatzer asked for an attorney. The case was soon dropped.

More than 2 1/2 years later, when the second child was old enough to talk more about what happened, a different police investigator questioned Shatzer, who agreed to talk, the brief says.

Shatzer then was charged with sexual child abuse, second-degree assault and other counts.

A Washington County Circuit Court ruling said Shatzer's statements in the case were admissible, but the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled 5-2 in August 2008 that his confession couldn't be used as evidence.

In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Last month, arguments were scheduled for Oct. 5.

The question before the court will be whether Shatzer's refusal to talk without an attorney the first time prevented police from getting a statement from him the second time, regardless of whether he agreed to speak with them.

Brian Scott Kleinbord, a Maryland assistant attorney general, is listed in Supreme Court records as representing the state, which petitioned for further review.

Celia Anderson Davis, an assistant public defender, is listed as the attorney of record for Shatzer.

The United States Department of Justice, 37 states and the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in California have filed briefs supporting the state of Maryland.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington, D.C., has filed a brief supporting Shatzer.

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