Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More Erosion of Miranda Rights

The Miranda warnings remind suspects of their right to remain silent but were never particularly clear on what happens when a suspect actually stays silent. Can the police question the suspect? If so, can they do they so for just a few minutes or as long as they want?

The court’s 5-to-4 opinion in the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins said that a suspect who wants the police to stop an interrogation must explicitly invoke the right to remain silent. Otherwise, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, the questioning can continue.


As this editorial points out, SCOTUS left some important questions unanswered, such as how long can questioning continue? But the logic of this decision was lost on the Court's majority - the accused has to speak up in order to enjoy the privilege of silence. The Court could have directed police to inform suspects that their right to remain silent is no longer an invocation of their 5th Amendment rights. But the majority elected to keep police and suspects guessing.

The fact that decisions like Miranda have not hurt criminal prosecutions, but have led to vast improvements in police procedures is totally lost on the Court's conservatives.

More commentary on this tragic decision.


fortboise said...

"The fact that decisions like Miranda have not hurt criminal prosecutions, but have led to vast improvements in police procedures is totally lost on the Court's conservatives."

Perhaps you could elaborate on how this inference entered into the case? Reading (just) the syllabus, the decision sounds reasonable enough. Police aren't required to teach a suspect Constitutional law. They read him his rights, he claimed to have understood his rights to remain silent and to have an attorney, but didn't avail himself of them, and finally made a candid admission indicating his guilt.

Granted, a syllabus drains the emotion out of a 3 hour interrogation, but the whole point about Miranda rights is that you can shut up and demand an attorney. The police have a fiduciary responsibility to the public at large, not to a suspect's personal best interests.

Dr. Michael Blankenship said...

Here is the critical part of the Miranda decision overturned by the majority - "But a valid waiver will not be presumed simply from the silence of the accused after warnings are given or simply from the fact that a confession was in fact eventually obtained.” 384 U. S., at 475.

The second item that the majority failed to acknowledge is a time limit on how long the police can continue to question a suspect. In this case it was three hours. Can the question go on indefinitely?

The Court could have added a new line to Miranda warnings - you must state verbally or in writing that you are claiming your right to remain silent.

Last, many people argue that decisions like Miranda have "handcuffed" the police. The data simply don't support that conclusion. Very few cases are lost because of 4th or 5th Amendment violations. The impact of Miranda has been making the police more professional. But facts be damned, conservatives continue to hammer away at 4th and 5th Amendment protections.

Police have a duty to balance public safety and individual liberty. We've seen too many examples where the latter has been sacrificed to false claims of the former.