New United States Supreme Court Miranda Ruling

Filed under: Criminal Law, News Tags: by Steven F. Fairlie @ June 2, 2010

A new United States Supreme Court holding dealing with Miranda has just come down: BERGHUIS, WARDEN, PETITIONER v. THOMPKINS, No. 08–1470. The Supreme Court reversed the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit despite a strong dissent. The Sixth Circuit had ruled that a statement made by a man accused of First Degree Murder was obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966). Police officers Mirandized and then interrogated the man for several hours about a fatal shooting. The man did not invoke his Miranda rights nor did he waive them. He just said nothing in response to police questioning. Near the end of the questioning he answered “yes” when asked if he prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting. The Court held that silence during interrogation does not invoke the right to remain silent as the right to silence or counsel must be invoked “unambiguously”. Essentially, the lesson of this case is that an explicit (traditionally written) waiver of Miranda rights is no longer needed under federal Miranda precedent and merely failing to affirmatively invoke your rights will constitute a waiver of those rights. Thus, someone who does not wish to speak with police about an issue must tell them that out loud. Perhaps more effective is to request a lawyer, which prohibits the police from coming back to question the person again at a later time until the lawyer is obtained.
It is likely that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will adopt this interpretation in Pennsylvania cases when interpreting Article I § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, so that there will be no greater protections in Pennsylvania than under federal law. The impact on our cases in Montgomery County and Bucks County will be the same as that under federal Miranda law.

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