You have the right to remain silent…

if you choose to give up that right, that’s your own fault.

Court: Suspects must say they want to be silent

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that suspects must explicitly tell police they want to be silent to invoke Miranda protections during criminal interrogations, a decision one dissenting justice said turns defendants’ rights “upside down.”

A right to remain silent and a right to a lawyer are the first of the Miranda rights warnings, which police recite to suspects during arrests and interrogations. But the justices said in a 5-4 decision that suspects must tell police they are going to remain silent to stop an interrogation, just as they must tell police that they want a lawyer.

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

I’d say this is probably good.* If you just sit there saying nothing, at what point do the police have to stop the interrogation? After the first question you don’t answer? Two questions? Twenty? This decision creates a “bright line” point where the police must stop the interrogation, without having to make assumptions or relying on a “reasonable person” test. Once you say you are exercising your right to remain silent, the police can’t keep trying to trick you or wear you down with a 3 or more hour interrogation. This decision protects both citizens rights, and the results of an interrogation like the one at issue here, where the suspect only answered intermittently.

Of course, the minority wouldn’t have that bright line.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s newest member, wrote a strongly worded dissent for the court’s liberals, saying the majority’s decision “turns Miranda upside down.”

“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.”

The majority seems to have a better grasp of reality.

“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.”

Also note that he implies a distinction between simply remaining silent and specifically invoking the right to remain silent to cut off questioning. This seems to me to say that you still have the right to remain silent without specifically invoking it – you can sit there and refuse to answer questions for as long as you want – but if you want to end the interrogation under your right to remain silent, you have to specifically say so.

That sounds perfectly reasonable, and consistent with another recent ruling that says if you want to invoke your right to a lawyer, you actually have to say you want a lawyer – merely asking “shouldn’t I have a lawyer” or saying “I think I should get a lawyer” isn’t enough, you have to say, unambiguously,  “I want a lawyer.”

Of course, one of the commenters on Yahoo said it best:

Headline is a lie. It should have said, “Court finds when you answer a question willingly you aren’t remaining silent.”

*Caveat: I have not read the actual decision yet. This post is my opinion based on the AP story. If I find out the AP “forgot” to report an important part of the decision, my opinion may change.

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