I’ve written in the past, here, and here, about how Miranda has been continually weakened over the past several decades until now it is merely a shell known best for its TV dramatization than for any actual legal protection. This week the Supreme Court might have shot it and left it for dead.
The case, Berghuis v. Thompkins, rises from Michigan. The Supreme Court ruled that a defendant has to actively invoke his right to remain silent. The defendant, Van Chester Thompkins, was read his rights and admits to understanding them. Thompkins remained silent while Michigan police interrogated him for Three Hours! Finally, one of the police asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” to which Mr. Thompkins said, “yes.” This one word statement after three hours of interrogation was used against Thompkins and upheld by the Supreme Court. (I will save my dismay about using God to create guilt during an interrogation for another blog post!)
The Court believes that a suspect can not merely remain silent (even if for three hours) in order to gain the protections of Miranda, he must actually say to the police, I am invoking my right to remain silent. The Supreme Court is now saying that any person brought in for questioning may be interrogated for hours unless he or she verbalizes their request for an attorney and their desire to remain silent. In other words, you have the right to remain silent but we are going to harass you until you finally say something and it will be used against you.
In the past, the police had to prove that a defendant waived his Miranda rights in order to admit a statement. This ruling gives them power to harass and interrogate endlessly without any question as to whether a defendant has actually waived his rights.
Honestly, there is very little protection left to Miranda. In fact, more defendants are probably confused by the law than are protected by it. This is a disturbing opinion by an increasingly conservative bench. Interestingly, Justice Sotomayor gave a vehement dissent while writing for the minority (in a 5-4 decision).
Be aware that Miranda is not necessarily going to protect you. Understand your rights and verbally assert them. If you have been taken in for questioning or arrested, tell the police that you have an attorney and contact my office right away. Be careful not to throw your civil rights away!