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Multifactor Test vs. the Bright-Line Rule

The multifactor test and the bright-line rule are two legal terminologies that have managed to stir up a lot of debate, as far as effective and lawful police interrogation is concerned. The two rules differ in their application since the former seeks to apply the use of several legal interpretations to decide whether an interrogation is lawful or not. The later, on the other hand, advocates for a clearly defined approach in determining the legality of an interrogation. This paper will analyze these two concepts within the context of acceptable police interrogation and conclude by stating whether or not the multifactor test should be replaced by a bright-line rule.

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Police interrogation is one area in law enforcement that has experienced several changes over the years that have sought to draw the line between acceptable police interrogation strategies, and those strategies that are deemed unacceptable. Police interrogation is an effective strategy as far as law enforcement is concerned as it seeks to obtain a confession from the suspect and according to Gudjonsson (2003); confessions are the regarded as the most effective evidence gathering strategies since in most cases than not, lawfully obtained confessions usually guarantee a conviction. There have been various interrogation techniques that have been adopted by law enforcement agents in order to obtain these confessions.

As Gudjonsson (2003) points out, various techniques ranging from the use of physical violence to the application of psychological techniques, meant to weaken the suspect’s resolve has at one time or the other been regarded as lawful interrogation techniques. As much as these techniques have over the years helped the police obtain confessions from suspects, the issue of the rights of the suspect in police custody, and precisely the rights of the suspect and any subsequent violation of these rights during police interrogation has always managed to plague the Criminal Justice System. The Supreme Court has managed to intervene in an effort to ensure that such rights are not violated during police interrogations and consequently, came up with several judicial provisions to act as a guide in conduction police interrogations. One such provision was the voluntariness standard that was widely used by the US Supreme Court during the better part of the twentieth century as a yardstick in admitting a suspect’s confession (Goldberg, 2005).

Goldberg (2005) asserts that, under this standard, the Supreme Court deemed a confession to be admissible in the court of law provided it was made voluntarily. Many judicial precedents were made to further refine the voluntariness standard such as the Bram v. United States (1897), which sought to further clarify the issue of involuntary confession (Goldberg, 2005). Inbau et al (2011) assert that of all judicial cases that have sought to address the issue of police interrogation; none has managed to attract more attention than Miranda v. Arizona. This case established a precedent that required police officers to inform suspects of any such persons under police custody of the rights that they have while under custody. These rights included the right to remain silent and the right to be accorded attorney assistance during the interrogation process. Furthermore, Miranda requires the police to ensure that any evidence obtained during the interrogation process be as a result of an intelligent and informed waiver of these rights by the suspect (Inbau et al, 2011).

As much as Miranda’s initial intention was to ensure protection of the suspect against any undue coercion from the police, recent developments have seen the US Supreme Court institute exceptions to this provision that have had the overall effect of weakening Miranda. These exceptions have been applied by police interrogators and in many cases assisted them to obtain admissible confessions resulting out of the circumvention this law. Some of the exceptions are included, attorney waivers. This is whereby a suspect waives the right to have an attorney present and proceeds to give evidence to the police (Signorelli, 2011). In addition to attorney waivers, another exception to Miranda is delayed warnings. The police can delay informing the suspect of their Miranda rights, and such a delay will not constitute a breach of law (Signorelli, 2011). Thirdly, Miranda does not apply if the case involves a suspect talking to a private security personnel as such personnel are not legally bound to inform the suspect of their Miranda rights. Finally, evidence obtained through the use of undercover police or an undercover police informant is not subject to Miranda and thus it is admissible in the courts of law (Signorelli, 2011).

One of the most notable Miranda circumvention strategies that have managed to garner a lot of controversy and bring into light the issue of multifactor test vs. bright-line line rule is the “question-first” interrogation technique. This technique, initially brought into the fray by Missouri v. Seibert involves the police first questioning the suspect before informing them of their Miranda rights, informing the suspect of their rights and finally obtaining an authorized confession from the suspect after they have been informed of their rights in an attempt to comply with Miranda’s provision (Goldberg, 2005). Such a strategy accords the police an opportunity to obtain evidence using coercion and other unlawful methods and will only require the suspect’s authorization after they have been “Mirandized.”

In Missouri v. Seibert, the United States Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained through “first-questioning” interrogation strategy was inadmissible in the courts of law as the court deemed the police to have interfered with the Miranda rights of the suspect and obtained the evidence unlawfully (May et al, 2007). Furthermore, in its ruling, the court argued against a multifactor test. May et al (2007) describe a multifactor as a test that applies the input of lower courts to determine the circumstances under which a “question-first” interrogation strategy can be undertaken, and that application of this test is unlawful since it interferes with the suspect’s understanding of their Miranda rights.

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According to Goldberg (2005 p. 1291) “if police deliberately employ a two-step interrogation strategy, any post-warning statements relating to the substance of the pre-warning statements must be excluded unless curative measures are taken before the post warning statement is made.” This assertion implies that the multifactor-test should be replaced with a more suspect sensitive approach that ensures the original spirit of Miranda is maintained. One such is the “bright-line rule.” Goldberg (2005) points out that unlike the multifactor test, the bright-line rule requires the police or any other such law enforcement agencies provide additional information with respect to the admissibility of the suspect’s pre-Miranda statements. Specifically, this rule makes it mandatory for the police to inform the suspects that any statements made by them before they have been informed of their Miranda rights will be inadmissible in the court of law whenever they intend to carry out a two-step interrogation process. Gudjonsson (2003) notes that the bright-line rule will be more effective than the multifactor test since unlike the former; it will ensure that the suspect’s rights while under police custody are protected. This is because the suspect will be informed of all the implications arising from both their pre-warning and post-warning statements, thus enhancing the original spirit of Miranda.

To sum it all up, police interrogations have overtime proved to be effective evidence gathering tools since they enable the police obtain confessions from suspects. There have been several interrogation techniques that have been applied by the police, to coerce a suspect into confessing. However, the initial application of these techniques tended to overlook the issue of suspect’s rights. Interventions by the Supreme Court have seen judicial measures being applied to enhance these rights, but more still needs to be done.

The case of Miranda v. the State of Arizona marked a momentous turning point as for the first time, the right of the suspect to be informed of their rights before a police interrogation was recognized and upheld by a court of law. Ever since its inception, police have tried to circumvent this right by applying various techniques and one case in point involved the use of “question-first” interrogation technique. This technique involved the police questioning the suspect before informing them of their rights. Applying the multifactor such a technique could have passed as lawful interrogation despite the fact that it conflicted with the intent of Miranda. However, using the bright-line rule, which requires that the police inform the suspect of the legal implications of pre-warning statements, such techniques that tend to interfere with the suspects’ rights will not pass the legal litmus test thus enhancing the rights of the suspect. For this reason, the bright-line rule is better than multifactor test and thus should replace multifactor test.


Goldberg, S. (2005). Missouri v. Seibert: The Multifactor Test Should Be Replaced with a Bright-Line Warning Rule to Strengthen Miranda’s Clarity. St. John’s Law Review, 79, 1287-1306

Gudjonsson, G.H. (2003). The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook. Boston: John Wiley & Sons.

Inbau, F.E., Reid., J.E., Buckley, J.P. & Jayne, B.C. (2011). Criminal Interrogation and Confessions. New Jersey: Jones & Bartlett.

May, D.C., Minor, K.I., Ruddell, R. & Mathews, B.A. (2007). Corrections and the Criminal Justice System. New Jersey: Jones & Bartlett.

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Signorelli, W.P. (2011). Criminal Law, Procedure, and Evidence. San Francisco: CRC Press.

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