Police may question a suspect who previously declined to talk without a lawyer if investigators learn through a third party that the suspect is willing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday in an 8-7 decision. The ruling reinstated the case of Ohio death row inmate Robert Van Hook, who was convicted of the 1985 murder of a man he met in a gay bar. Van Hook claimed temporary insanity brought on by the victim’s sexual advances.
The appeal focused on whether a third party other than a lawyer – in this case Van Hook's mother – may act as a go-between for police and a suspect. The mother led police to believe that her son was willing to cooperate. Van Hook was read his rights and “gave a full and graphic confession.” “The Constitution protects a suspect from official coercion – it does not protect a suspect from himself or his mother,” Judge David McKeague wrote for the majority. The 8-7 ruling again showed the 6th Circuit’s polarization on the death penalty and prisoners' rights. In the main dissent, Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. said “the majority's endorsement of third-party initiations impermissibly heightens the risk of constitutional error, and that such an error has occurred in this case.”