Tuesday, June 01, 2010
So Goes the Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court bit a chunk out of the Miranda decision which said the government had the burden to prove that a crime suspect had "knowingly and intelligently waived" his rights.
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled a crime suspect had the duty (emphasis mine) to invoke his rights. "If he failed to do so, his later word can be used to convict him."
In this case, Michigan police had informed the suspect, Van Thompkins, of his rights, including the right to remain silent. Thompkins said he understood, but he did not tell the officer he wanted to stop the questioning or speak to a lawyer.
But he sat in a chair and said nothing for about two hours and 45 minutes. At that point, the officer asked, "Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?"
"Yes," Thompson (sic) said and looked away. He refused to sign a confession or speak further, but he was convicted of first-degree murder, based largely on his one-word reply.
Thompkins' murder conviction was turned over by the U.S. 6th Circuit of Appeals on the grounds that the use of the incriminating answer violated his "right against self-incrimination under the "Miranda decision."
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote: "Police were 'not required to obtain a waiver' of the suspect's 'right to remain silent before interrogating him.'" Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
The Supreme Court reversed that ruling and reinstated the conviction. "A suspect who has received and understood the Miranda warnings and has not invoked his Miranda rights waives the right to remain silent by making an uncoerced statement to the police," Kennedy said.
Writing for the minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the ruling "marks a substantial retreat from the protections against compelled self-incrimination that Miranda v. Arizona has long provided." Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer joined her dissent.
Lest you are breathlessly awaiting Elena Kagan's expected seating on the High Court, hold your breath. While U.S. Solicitor General, Kagan filed a brief on the side of Michigan prosecutors and argued that "the government need not prove that a suspect expressly waived his rights."