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Editorial: Unspoken rights

Since when do Americans have to declare their constitutional rights out loud in order to claim them?

In the case of crime suspects, the right to remain silent, which has been enshrined in law for decades under the 1966 Miranda ruling, now comes with just such a strange proviso.

As a result of a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, those handy Miranda flash cards that police carry need to be updated to read: Speak up, or you can't remain silent legally.

The ruling in a Michigan murder case narrows a defendant's right against self-incrimination by specifying that a suspect has to voice his intention to invoke his Miranda rights.

Murder suspect Van Thompkins was read his rights, but then implicated himself in a 2000 killing after listening in silence to police questions during a nearly three-hour interrogation.

While a lower court tossed Thompkins' murder conviction, the Supreme Court reinstated it because Thompkins decided to answer an incriminating question.

Had the court merely ruled that Thompkins, by speaking, had waived his right to remain silent, the decision wouldn't have set off such shock waves among rights activists.

But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion also concluded that a defendant can be questioned at length as long as he doesn't clearly announce to police his refusal to answer questions.

Will would-be criminals brush up on constitutional law before committing whatever stupid criminal act they have in mind? Unlikely.

So this ruling tilts in favor of police and continues to chip away at individual liberties - as did recent misguided proposals from President Obama that terror suspects be grilled longer before being Mirandized than now permissible under already reasonable time waivers.

In her stinging dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor got it right by saying the Miranda ruling "marks a substantial retreat from the protection against compelled self-incrimination."

The fact that DNA exonerations often upend criminal confessions that turn out to have been coerced after lengthy interrogations demonstrates the risks of such police procedures. That's a key reason Miranda rights were established in the first place under our legal system, which adheres to the ideal of innocent until proven guilty.

With these new police powers, it becomes even more critical to videotape all major-crime interrogations to guard against coercion.

It may seem to some that the high court ruling will enable police to nab more bad guys and make the charges stick. But by setting up a "gotcha" set of rules about a key constitutional protection, the high court has eroded individual liberty for all Americans.

Comments   
Posted 06:46 AM, 06/04/2010
p.e.poole
The criminal was asked to sign something acknowledging his right to remain silent. He chose not to sign it. He then answered an incriminating question. Yes, after a few hours, but he was a suspect in a murder case. The high court has NOT eroded individual liberty for all Americans. The high court has strengthened our individual constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Why do Liberals always forget about the rights of the non-criminals?
Posted 06:58 AM, 06/04/2010
Bartleby
This is "original intent," right? They are just being "strict constructivists," not "judicial activists," right?
Posted 07:10 AM, 06/04/2010
BMVILLA
P.E.Poole: Whether citizen or non-citizen, the people of America don't have the "individual constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as you claim. These are not explicit constitutional rights. In fact these quoted words of yours are not even in the federal Constitution. They are in the Declaration of Independence. Next, the fact of the Miranda acknowledgement is that the defendant refused to sign this card because it contained language where he would have acknowledged understanding his rights. Finally, as to the high court not eroding individual liberty, that fails because this is the third recent U.S. Supreme Court case where Miranda rights have been eroded, therefore adversely impacting liberty, and therefore, making your claim to the contrary on this point, fail. With better facts (not your opinions), you would have a better argument.
Posted 07:17 AM, 06/04/2010
BMVILLA
P.E.Poole: Whether citizen or non-citizen, the people of America don't have the "individual constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as you claim. These are not explicit constitutional rights. In fact these quoted words of yours are not even in the federal Constitution. They are in the Declaration of Independence. Next, the fact of the Miranda acknowledgement is that the defendant refused to sign this card because it contained language where he would have acknowledged understanding his rights. Finally, as to the high court not eroding individual liberty, that fails because this is the third recent U.S. Supreme Court case where Miranda rights have been eroded, therefore adversely impacting liberty, and therefore, making your claim to the contrary on this point, fail. With better facts (not your opinions), you would have a better argument.
Posted 07:39 AM, 06/04/2010
john carey
the inky worries about terrorist rights to remain silent.the left's hero fdr had german spies summarily executed.i guess he was the geo.bush of the 1940's,you betcha
Posted 07:41 AM, 06/04/2010
richw38
Neocons always decry liberal "activist judges" who they claim make new law. Can someone please tell me why those same neocons defend this terrible court's repeated hacking away at existing law and individual rights. It seems that it is OK for conservative judges to make new.
Posted 08:19 AM, 06/04/2010
bill634
just say 'I want a lawyer'
Posted 08:53 AM, 06/04/2010
carla commenate
I agree Bill! It needs to plastered across America! When you meet a lawman You throw your hands up in the air and say lawyer. If they ask you for the time, say lawyer. If they ask you you your name say lawyer. THEY ARE THERE to crucify you and when you open your mouth you pick up your cross. You go to jail, they go to the bar and laugh
Posted 09:16 AM, 06/04/2010
pj katauskas
The editors make a big deal out of nothing. What's so outrageous in requiring an accused to simply utter the words "I want to remain silent," after being told he can do so. In fact, I rather imagine the police will henceforth tell accuseds that they need to state their desire to remain silent. Much ado about very little.
Posted 09:24 AM, 06/04/2010
ricky
It is outrageous that your right to remain silent is something that the police would withhold from you while investigating you. As though engaging in legal trickery is a good way to treat a citizen, who is presumed guilty! For shame! If a policeman is suspicious of a crime, that is his problem. You are under no obligation to help in his investigation or answer any of his questions as if you are under oath. Until you are charged, he can't do anything or incriminate you for interfering with an investigation. An officer has no right to ask you any questions when he is "fishing". Then he is trying to "trick" you into admitting guilt, as opposed to finding solid evidence.
Posted 09:28 AM, 06/04/2010
p.e.poole
I disagree that the rights of citizens are being eroded by a more conservative court. It was a very narrow decision. The circumstances very specific. The man admitted to his guilt. The job of law enforcement is to catch bad guys without cruel and inhumane treatment and without forcing a confession. How did they mistreat this suspect. Is keeping him in a room for a couple of hours cruel? This was a common sense decision balancing the rights of the accused against the rights of the citizens. I support the decision. And yes, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not in the the Constitution. It doesn't have to be. Remember, it is self evident that we hold these rights.
Posted 09:38 AM, 06/04/2010
bill.atkin.
This one is beyond stupid and is example #2,874 as to how lawyers and journalists have ruined this nation. First, the guy in question is unquestionably a murderer. So understandably, the editorial board sympathizes with him. But to the facts, the guy had at least 3 options to avoid incriminating himself. 1) if he had said at any time "I want to speak to a lawyer", the whole thing is over. 2) he could have signed the paper saying he wanted to exercise his right. 3) not willing apparently to do either of the above to signal his intent, he could have continued the Helen Keller routine. Leave it to left wing nitwits like Sotomayor, the editorial board and their Democrat party lemmings to always get on the side of murderers.
Posted 09:41 AM, 06/04/2010
Rich-Mitch
Justice Kennedy is not a neocon...and he gave the majority opinion.
Posted 10:05 AM, 06/04/2010
Justin Case
He had the right to remain silent. But he exercised his right to open his mouth and put his foot in it.
Posted 10:06 AM, 06/04/2010
john carey
ricky and carla,if the terrorist attack on a large scale again,and they will.my hope is that those who wish them rights,you two included are near ground zero.you betcha



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