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It’s Not That Hard, Boys

June 1, 2010

Apparently, the Supreme Court has just “weaken[ed] Miranda rights” by ruling that “suspects must request to remain silent” (italics mine).  At least that’s what The Daily Beast said on its cheat sheet this afternoon.  Want to know what really happened?

In a narrowly split decision, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority expanded its limits on the famous Miranda rights for criminal suspects on Tuesday — over the dissent of new Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who said the ruling turned Americans’ rights of protection from police abuse “upside down.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said a suspect who goes ahead and talks to police after being informed he doesn’t have to has waived his right to remain silent.

So, you get arrested.  The cops go through the whole process of telling you that you have the right to remain silent and that you have the right to an attorney and all that, even though you ought to already know that as a citizen of this country.  Then they begin to question you, as they are legally allowed and obliged to.  And then, after they already told you that you didn’t have to say anything to them, you go ahead and spill the beans anyway about how you held up that 7-11 with your uncle’s Saturday Night Special:

The ruling comes in a case in which 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 he had invoked his Miranda right to remain silent by remaining silent.

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.”

This Thompkins cat apparently said “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know” for about three hours before finally responding “yes” to whether or not he had prayed for forgiveness for “shooting that boy down”.  According to him, that’s waiving your Miranda rights.  Huh?  I was under the impression that if you said “I’m not talking” or just didn’t talk, then you were invoking your right to remain silent.  Although the latter is no longer an option thanks to this decision, Thompkins did neither of those things.  He claimed that he was being “uncommunicative” with the police because he gave them one-word answers.  Sorry, chief, talking is not not talking.  This particular ruling just eliminates the ambiguity of the situation—if you don’t want to talk, just say, “I’m not talking.”  That way, the cops don’t ask you any more questions and you haven’t accidentally implicated yourself.  If you’re too dumb to do that or you didn’t know that this is the new protocol, then that’s your friggin’ problem.  Sonia Sotomayor, in a shocking turn of events, wrote the dissenting opinion:

“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.”

Well, Sonia, you have to speak to ask for a lawyer in order to get one, so are you waiving your right to remain silent when you do that?  Furthermore, is giving interrogators one-word answers not a more clear expression of waiving the right to remain silent than it is an expression of not waiving that right?  What puzzles me is who the liberal judges are trying to protect with their dissents; presumably, they are advocating for those who will inevitably not know what the rules are about being arrested and being interrogated.  I’ve never been an advocate of empowering the police, but seriously, ignorantia juris non excusat.

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