05 June 2010

Miranda Rights


In Berghuis v. Thompkins (08-1470), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state court decision rejecting the claim of a violation of Thompkins' Miranda rights. While soldiers have Article 31 Rights in the military, if you are questioned by civilian authorities - you will be looking to Miranda rights to save you.

Facts of the Case: Thompkins' silence while being questioned by police did not amount to an invocation of his Miranda right to remain silent. At the beginning of Thompkins' interrogation, one of the detectives presented him with a Miranda "Notification of Constitutional Rights and Statement" form. The detective read four of the five statements on the form aloud, and asked Thompkins to read the fifth aloud. Thompkins declined to sign the form, and there was conflicting evidence regarding whether Thompkins verbally confirmed that he understood the rights listed. Officers then began the interrogation. At no point during the interrogation did Thompkins expressly say that he wanted to remain silent, that he did not want to talk with the police, or that he wanted an attorney. However, Thompkins was largely silent during the interrogation, which lasted about three hours, occasionally providing a few short responses such as "yeah," "no," or "I don't know." About 2 hours and 45 minutes into the interrogation, one of the detectives asked Thompkins several questions about his belief in God, culminating in, "Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?" Thompkins answered "Yes" and looked away. Thompkins refused to make a written confession, and the interrogation ended about 15 minutes later. Thompkins was charged with first-degree murder and other offenses. He moved to suppress the statements made during the interrogation, arguing that he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, requiring police to end the interrogation at once, that he had not waived his right to remain silent, and that his inculpatory statements were involuntary. The trial court denied the motion.

Appellate Review: The Michigan state courts affirmed the conviction; in habeas proceedings the Sixth Circuit granted Thompkins' petition. In reversing the Sixth Circuit, the Supreme Court first held that a defendant's invocation of the right to remain silent must be "unambiguous." Because Thompkins never actually said that he did not want to talk to the police, the Court concluded that his assertion of the right to silence was ambiguous. The Court next determined that Thompkins had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to silence. Here, the Court reasoned, a valid waiver could be implied by the circumstances: "Where the prosecution shows that a Miranda warning was given and that it was understood by the accused, an accused's uncoerced statement establishes an implied waiver of the right to remain silent." According to the Court, "The fact that Thompkins made a statement about three hours after receiving a Miranda warning does not overcome the fact that he engaged in a course of conduct indicating waiver. Police are not required to rewarn suspects from time to time." Lastly, the Court rejected the argument that the police were required to obtain a waiver of Thompkins's Miranda rights before commencing the interrogation.

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