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You Have the Right to Remain Silent: US Supreme Court Modifies Famous Miranda Ruling


“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

These words are what are commonly called the Miranda warning. They came about as a result of 5 to 4 decision by the United States Supreme Court in 1966. The Supreme Court did not specify the exact language to be used, but they did say that the rights were guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

On June 10, 2010, the US Supreme Court revisited Miranda rights in Berghuis v. Thompkins, where the court considered the issue of a suspect’s awareness of his or her right to remain silent, and whether there is a requirement to explicitly invoke that right. Basically, the court held that a suspect must speak up and assert their right to remain silent. The mere fact that a defendant remains silent after his or her rights are read does not mean that the suspect is invoking his or her right to remain silent.

Facts of the original Miranda case

On March 13, 1963, petitioner, Ernesto Miranda, was arrested at his home and taken in custody to a Phoenix police station. He was there identified by the complaining witness. The police then took him to “Interrogation Room No. 2” of the detective bureau.

There he was questioned by two police officers. The officers admitted at trial that Miranda was not advised that he had a right to have an attorney present. Two hours later, the officers emerged from the interrogation room with a written confession signed by Miranda. At the top of the statement was a typed paragraph stating that the confession was made voluntarily, without threats or promises of immunity and “with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.

Facts of the case: Berghuis v. Thompkins

After advising suspect Thompkins of his rights, in full compliance with Miranda, two officers interrogated him about a shooting in which one victim died. At no point did Thompkins say that he wanted to remain silent, that he did not want to talk with the police, or that he wanted an attorney. He was largely silent during the 3-hour interrogation, but near the end, he answered “yes” when asked if he prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting.

How the law changes under the new ruling: Speak up if you want to remain silent.

Under the 5 to 4 ruling in Berghuis v. Thompkins, the Supreme Court made it clear that if a suspect in a crime wants to invoke his or her right to remain silent, the suspect must speak up. It may seem a bit counter intuitive, but it is what the court has held.

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