Minimizing Miranda

by Jonathan H. Adler

In a significant ruling this past week, the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of its (in)famous ruling in Miranda v. Arizona.  In Berghuis v. Thompkins, the Court voted 5-4 to hold that a criminal suspect’s silence in the face of police questioning is not inherently sufficient to invoke the suspect’s rights to remain silent and have the assistance of counsel. Rather, the Court held, the assertion of such rights must be clear and unambiguous. A contrary rule, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority, could force police officers to “make difficult decisions about an accused’s unclear intent and face the consequence of suppression if they guess wrong.” In the case at hand, the suspect was informed of his rights, but sat largely silent during the subsequent police interrogation, eventually answering a few yes-or-no questions that implicated him in a murder. Justice Sotomayor wrote the dissent, arguing the decision was a “substantial retreat” from the protections created by the original Miranda decision.

As I note here, this case is the fifth this term in which the Supreme Court overturned a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In each of these cases, the Sixth Circuit had ruled in favor of a prisoner seeking habeas relief from his criminal conviction.

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