Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Supreme Court - Silence isn't enough?

It turns out you can't just be silent to get your Miranda rights - you actually have to say you want to be silent. Is that really how it should work?

Okay, yeah, wrong Miranda. But, much like the legal protection that shares its' name, they are both weird and misunderstood things, open to constant interpretation. That's what happens when you say an arrested individual can choose to not cooperate with Police, and remain silent - everyone wants to niggle as much of it away as they can.

So it's no surprise that the Supreme Court just determined - 5 to 4 - that if you want to invoke your Miranda rights, it's not enough to actually remain silent. You have to say you want to remain silent, or they're no good.

Is that really how it's supposed to work?

The ruling comes in a case where a suspect, Van Chester Thompkins, remained mostly silent for a three-hour police interrogation before implicating himself in a Jan. 10, 2000, murder in Southfield, Mich. He appealed his conviction, saying that he invoked his Miranda right to remain silent by remaining silent.

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the decision for the court's conservatives, said that wasn't enough.

"Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk to police," Kennedy said. "Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his 'right to cut off questioning.' Here he did neither, so he did not invoke his right to remain silent."

Apparently the fellow inadvertently "confessed" to murder while being questioned non-stop, was subsequently convicted, but had the conviction overturned on appeal because he was trying to be quiet during the interrogation. A higher court overturned the overturning, and the Supreme Court has just upheld that.

I think it should be assumed that if the person you're grilling isn't talking, they're taking advantage of Miranda and should be left to stew. I also think it's a good idea to assume the person you're grilling is dumb as a post, and needs to have their options spelled out for them, so as to keep guesswork at a minimum and avoid lengthy appeals.

There is one good thing that's come out of this: the newest Judge on the Court, Sonia Sotomayor, is showing that we made a good choice in putting her in there.

(Sotomayor) wrote a strongly worded dissent for the court's liberals, saying the majority's decision "turns Miranda upside down."

"Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which counterintuitively, requires them to speak," she said. "At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so. Those results, in my view, find no basis in Miranda or our subsequent cases and are inconsistent with the fair-trial principles on which those precedents are grounded."

Nice to see we didn't put a stealth bomb on the bench by mistake!


Post a Comment

<< Home