I’ve long thought the famous Miranda warning (“You have the right to remain silent …) was an important safeguard of justice.
But reading the Miranda decision and its progeny in college, I thought the Supreme Court went too far. It’s one thing to say people have the right not to incriminate themselves, and have a right to a lawyer. It’s quite another to say that criminal suspect have a right to a great lawyer or a right not to make dumb mistakes.
Thank God, in fact, for stupid criminals and their incompetent attorneys.
So I was glad to see the Supreme Court the other day rule 5 to 4 that a Michigan defendant who incriminated himself in a fatal shooting by saying one word after nearly three hours of questioning had given up his right to silence, and that the statement could be used against him at trial.
I think the Constitution out to protects suspect from coercion or torture, but not searching questioning by the police.
The Court’s newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor, however, penned a vigorous dissent.
“Today’s decision turns Miranda upside down,” wrote Sotomayor. “Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which, counter-intuitively, requires them to speak.”
Actually, I think it’s Sotomayor who turns the Constitution upside down. It wasn’t that the suspect, Van Chester Thompkins, remained silent that was the problem, but that he spoke at all.
“If Thompkins wanted to remain silent, he could have said nothing in response to questions, or he could have unambiguously involved his Miranda rights and ended the interrogation,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
That, it seems to me, protects the rights of suspects from the kinds of abuses the Constitution was written to protect against.
About The AuthorMarc Charisse is the editor of The Evening Sun. Dr. Charisse has a Ph.D. in First Amendment law and history, and has taught communication law and constitutional law at the University of Washington in Seattle and Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Fla. Charisse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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