Friday, June 4, 2010

You Not Only Have The Right To Remain Silent, But, If That's Your Choice, Then The Responsibility, Too

The recent Supreme Court opinion handed down, as they say, in the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, allows law enforcement to continue questioning a suspect, and to use what that suspect says against him in court, in the absence of an express declaration, either in writing or orally, that the suspect is invoking his right to remain silent.
As with other issues of its kind, this one managed to split nine identically educated lawyers five to four.

Mr. Thompkins, who refused to sign a declaration acknowledging he had been read his Miranda rights, was going along fine maintaining his silence in the face of questioning, until he was done in by the God wheeze:
Detective: "Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?"
Thompkins: "Yes."

The jury at trial was presented with this dialog and, inter alia, finding praying for forgiveness for an act evidence of having committed the act, convicted Mr. Thompkins.

Justice Sotomayor dissented in grand fashion, offering a document longer than the opinion. In it, she at least avoided the tired phrase that the majority had stood (Miranda here, but substitute any statute/rule/doctrine) Miranda on its head. In its place, she offered this equally prosaic but less hackneyed synonym: "Today's decision turns Miranda upside down." Justice Sotomayor, seizing on an apparent contradiction flowing from the ruling, writes, "Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent- which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak."

Of course, criminal suspects could say nothing at all. The guilty ones could add that restraint to their tool kit, already containing, for example, guns and knives and such. Mr. Thompkins, perhaps and poetically, was done in by the same lack of impulse control (his own) that did in his victim.

Now we'll find out if the new principle, universally applied, is on balance salutary or not.


devry university chicago said...

Thank you for sharing us this story. Miranda rights should be used properly. I think if a question is asked in the court, we have to answer it as much as possible. If guilty, at least say some alibi. I really like the very clever question to Mr. Thompkins. He fell for it and was convicted.

David Hutchinson said...

Here's a relevant study reported in the New York Times.