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What's Happening to the Right to Remain Silent?

In a recent Supreme Court of the United States decision, BERGHUIS V. THOMPKINS, the Supreme Court ruled that a suspect needs to affirmatively invoke the Right to Remain Silent, narrowing the scope of MIRANDA V. ARIZONA, the landmark case which interpreted the US Constitution to give us the right to remain silent in 1966.  Now you must tell the police "I want to remain silent".

The defendant, Thompkins, when being interrogated by the police on suspicion of murder never told the police that he wanted to remain silent, and that he did not want to talk with the police or that he wanted an attorney during his 3 hour interrogation.  Near the end, he answered"yes" when asked if he prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting of the victim.

The Court held that Thompkins' silence during the questioning did not invoke his Miranda rights "unambiguously", and that his one word answer implied that he waived his right to remain silent.

The Court held: "In sum, a suspect who has received and understood the Miranda warnings, and has not invoked his Miranda rights, waives the right to remain silent by making an uncoerced statement to the police.  Thompkins did not invoke his right to remain silent and stop the questioning.  Understanding his rights in full, he waived his right to remain silent by making a voluntary statement to the police.  The police, moreover, were not required to obtain a waiver of Thompkin's right to remain silent before interrogating him."

As a result of this ruling, a suspect must say, "I don't want to talk", or "I want to remain silent" or "I want an attorney".  I wonder what the police thought during the 3 hours of the questioning when Thompkins refused to answer any of their questions - that he wasn't asserting his right to remain silent?  I don't think this is the end of the erosion of Miranda.

 

 

 

 

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Gregory R. Gifford
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