[Guest post by DRJ]
Today the Supreme Court ruled in Berghuis v. Thompkins that suspects must explicitly tell police they want to be silent to invoke their Miranda protection during interrogations:
“Criminal defendants won’t get the benefit of the Miranda rule against self-incrimination unless they specifically invoke it, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.
The vote in the Miranda case was 5-4 along ideological lines as the court’s conservatives put limits on the rights of suspects.
Under the Miranda rule, derived from the 1966 Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona, police may not question a suspect who invokes his rights—and can’t use as evidence incriminating statements obtained after the suspect does so.
In Tuesday’s decision, the court ruled that an ambiguous situation would be treated in favor of the police.”
Here is the Wall Street Journal’s summary of the facts, Justice Kennedy’s opinion, and Justice Sotomayor’s dissent:
“The case came from Southfield, Mich., where a shooting suspect refused to sign a statement acknowledging that he had been given the Miranda warning but didn’t expressly state he was invoking his right to remain silent.
Police interrogated the suspect, Van Chester Thompkins, for nearly three hours, during which time he said virtually nothing. A detective then began asking Mr. Thompkins about his religious beliefs, asking, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?”
Mr. Thompkins said “yes” but refused to make any further confession. The prosecution introduced the statement as evidence, and a jury convicted Mr. Thompkins.
On appeal, Mr. Thompkins’s lawyers contended that use of the statement violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Writing for himself and four conservatives, Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected that argument.
“If Thompkins wanted to remain silent, he could have said nothing in response to [the detective’s] questions, or he could have unambiguously invoked his Miranda rights and ended the interrogation,” Justice Kennedy wrote, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
He added that no evidence suggested police coerced the statement and observed that “the interrogation was conducted in a standard-size room in the middle of the afternoon,” conditions that weren’t inherently coercive.
In sum, “after giving a Miranda warning, police may interrogate a suspect who has neither invoked nor waived his rights,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent longer than the majority opinion, argued that the majority misread precedent and reached beyond the facts of the case to impose a tough new rule against defendants.
“Today’s decision turns Miranda upside down,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. “Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent—which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak.”
Editor Elie Mystal at AboveTheLaw is not pleased with this decision. While I’m not unhappy with the decision, I think Mystal’s right that this case shows it’s Kennedy’s Court now.