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Orange County Bar Association

Supreme Court Limits Miranda Protection

Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo
Supreme Court

Everyone knows from the many cop shows on TV that once a person is arrested and before they can be questioned by police they must be read their Miranda rights. Miranda refers to the 1966 case Arizona v. Miranda where the U.S. Supreme Court decided that statements may not be used against a Defendant if he is not first informed of the right against self incrimination under the 5th Amendment. Those rights are specifically set out as the right to counsel, the right against self incrimination, the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent. On June 1, 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court decided to permit statements of a Defendant to be admitted as evidence even though the Defendant never agreed to waive his rights under Miranda.

In the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, Mr. Thompkins was in police custody and being questioned about the death of an individual. The Police read him his Miranda rights but Mr. Thompkins never indicated whether he wanted to speak with them or if he was invoking his right to remain silent. Instead, he said largely nothing and the police asked him questions for three hours to which he did not respond until the very end of the interrogation when the officer asked: “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” To which the Defendant replied, “Yes.” That statement was used to convict him of murder. Notably, Mr. Thompkins declined to sign a form acknowledging that he understood his Miranda rights as well as never indicating whether he was choosing to speak to police. The court found that unless the Defendant explicitly says he is declining to speak with police, any confession may be used against him. Previously, it was thought that a waiver of one’s right had to be made clear by the Defendant. This decision pitted the liberal wing of the Supreme Court against the conservative wing in a 5-4 decision.

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