Speak Up To Remain Silent

I enjoyed Troy Graham’s pithy article in the Philadelphia Inquirer concerning the Supreme Court’s new ruling regarding the famous “Miranda Warning” and “Mirandizing,” as the practice is colloquially known. Based on Graham’s article, I feel as if there is bad news and worse news about the ruling, at least from the point of view of those arrested. Here’s a chunk from Graham’s article, with brief annotations in Italics.

Basically, they [those detained or arrested] have to speak up if they want to remain silent.

Justice Franz Kafka writing for the majority.

Veteran lawyers say Miranda rights have been eroding for years, and they were unmoved by this latest development.

Ah, not to worry about the ruling; things have already gone to hell with the Miranda warning. Chill out!

“I think the practical impact will be nil,” said George Parry, a Philadelphia defense lawyer who has been a federal and city prosecutor. “I’ve never heard of a defendant not verbally or otherwise stating that he did or didn’t want to give a statement.”

Nonetheless, that’s what happened in the case decided, 5-4, this week, he noted.

In 2000, a Michigan shooting suspect remained silent and refused to answer questions for nearly three hours before a detective asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?”

The suspect said, “Yes,” but he refused to sign a confession or speak further. He was convicted based largely on that one word.

One word of evidence.

“It’s an interesting scenario but I doubt it’s one that’s occurred in more than one-tenth of one percent of the cases,” Parry said.

Lt. Frank Vanore, a Philadelphia police spokesman, said that the department would consult with the District Attorney’s Office on the ruling, and that no changes had been made as to how interrogations are handled.

If new training is needed for investigators and supervisors, he said, “we will ensure it’s done.”

David Kairys, a constitutional law professor at Temple University, said he feared the ruling could encourage detectives eager for a confession to ignore suspects’ rights.

“We had this history, and we still do, of relying on confessions more than traditional proof,” he said. “This will embolden whatever tendencies there already are for wrongdoing or laziness.”

By putting more burden on suspects, the ruling also “makes it harder for the defendant who is improperly questioned and coerced to prove it,” he said.

The Temple professor seems to think the new ruling matters.

Christopher Warren, a Philadelphia defense lawyer, said that Miranda rights are “breached every day,” but that defense lawyers can rarely prove it.

“If it comes down to what the cop says and what the defendant says, the cop usually wins,” he said.

The court’s latest ruling, Warren said, “is a nice little intellectual exercise, but as a practical matter, Miranda has very little teeth to begin with.”

The Court couldn’t dilute “Miranda”; it was already pure water.


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