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Supreme Court in Miranda case: Suspect must invoke right

Updated: 1:40 p.m.
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a criminal suspect must explicitly invoke the right to remain silent during a police interrogation, a decision that dissenting liberal justices said turns the protections of a Miranda warning “upside down.”

The court ruled 5 to 4 that a Michigan defendant who incriminated himself in a fatal shooting after nearly three hours of questioning thus gave up his right to silence, and the statement could be used against him at trial.

“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,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court’s conservatives.

In a separate case, the justices unanimously agreed that a former prime minister of Somalia who now lives in Fairfax County may be sued in U.S. courts by fellow countrymen who claim he oversaw killings and torture in their former home. Mohamed Ali Samantar was part of the country’s ruling government in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In the case about Miranda rights, suspect Van Chester Thompkins remained mostly silent for three hours of interrogation after reading and being told of his rights to remain silent and have an attorney. He neither acknowledged that he was willing to talk nor that he wanted questioning to stop.

But detectives persisted in what one called mostly a “monologue” until asking Thompkins whether he believed in God. When asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” Thompkins looked away and answered, “Yes.”

The statement was used against him, and Thompkins was convicted of killing Samuel Morris outside a strip mall in Southfield, Mich.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit said that Thompkins’s silence for two hours and 45 minutes of the interrogation “offered a clear and unequivocal message to the officers: Thompkins did not wish to waive his rights.”

But Kennedy said it was not clear enough. “If Thompkins wanted to remain silent, he could have said nothing in response to (the detective’s) questions, or he could have unambiguously involved his Miranda rights and ended the interrogation,” wrote Kennedy, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. “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.”

Kennedy said the court’s new rule — in the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins — was an extension of the logic in a previous case that said a suspect must affirmatively assert his right to counsel.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in the sharpest dissent of her young career on the court, accused the majority of casting aside judicial restraint and creating a rule that marks “a substantial retreat from the protection against compelled self-incrimination” that Miranda established more than 40 years ago.

“Today’s decision turns Miranda upside down,” wrote Sotomayor. “Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent, which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak.” She was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

In the case of Samantar v. Yousef, the court rejected claims by the former prime minister and defense minister that he is entitled to immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. That act protecting “foreign states” from lawsuits does not include individuals, the court ruled.

The court said its finding is narrow, but that a lawsuit filed by members of the Isaaq clan, which alleges acts of detention, torture and murder, can go forward.

“Whether petitioner (Samantar) may be entitled to immunity under common law, and whether he may have other valid defenses to the grave charges against him, are matters to be addressed” by lower courts, Stevens wrote.

-- Robert Barnes

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 1, 2010; 1:06 PM ET
Categories:  Supreme Court , Topic: Civil Rights , Topics: Fundamental Rights  
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Comments

Another infringement on citizens rights by the right-wing Supreme Court. This country is going backwards under the ultra-conservatives in this country. It's time for the Centrists to take the country back before they destroy us and our freedoms.

Posted by: dzud2008 | June 1, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

“Today’s decision turns Miranda upside down,” wrote Sotomayor. “Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent, which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak.”

That is a terrible finding. According to her, if they invoke their right to remain silent, they can't speak thereafter? No asking for water or to go to the bathroom? If they do, then they've given up their right?

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | June 1, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Only in the Twilight Zone world of American law would the courts decree that someone must speak up in order to remain silent.

Welcome to Catch 22, 2010 version.

Posted by: bloggersvilleusa | June 1, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

wow. One fair ruling followed by a supreme brain fart.

1) the suspect understood his rights and didn't have to speak. he could have told the police he wanted an attorney, and to stop speaking to him, but he chose not to even though the Miranda statement makes it clear that he could have.

2) BRAIN FART!!! Now foreigners can sue their politicians in US Court. Where does it end, and why should American taxpayers have to foot the bill? Horrible, Horrible, Horrible. What was done in Somalia may not have been a crime in Somalia so it should be tried under the laws in which the alleged infraction occurred. The US Court system is not an international court. Go to the Hague if you want international justice.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | June 1, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I expect that we will see a torrent of teabagger outrage over the shrinking of their Constitutional rights by these five conservative judicial activists.

Just kidding.

Teabaggers only care about the Second Amendment, which is not remotely under attack, and the 14th Amendment, which prevents the states from violating the Constitutional rights of any citizen... even scary brown ones.

Posted by: losthorizon10 | June 1, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

While I wouldn't wish harm on anyone, I hope Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, and/or Kenndy decide to take up another line of work.

Note the irony; this is a judicially "activist" position taken by the right-wing court, in an era when right wing politicians and their followers spout their opposition to "activist" judges.

Posted by: davewyman | June 1, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

“Today’s decision turns Miranda upside down,” wrote Sotomayor. “Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent, which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak.”

That is a terrible finding. According to her, if they invoke their right to remain silent, they can't speak thereafter? No asking for water or to go to the bathroom? If they do, then they've given up their right?

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | June 1, 2010 1:46 PM |

You are misinterpreting her statement... She is NOT for the new ruling....she is AGAINST it. Moreover, she is saying that according to the new ruling, you must remain completely silent, and not answer any question(s) that 'may' be connected to the crime to which you are being questions. A simple "yes' or 'no' response can be viewed as waiving your right to reamin silent, and can be used against you in court.

The absolute best course of action is a repaetedly ask for your lawyer to be present. You can ask for a glass of water, or to go to the bathroom....you just cannot speak on anything that 'may' be related to crime to which you are alleged to have commited. Getting water or going to the restroom has nothing to do with your alleged charges. Just my opinion.

Posted by: TAOKOWLOON1 | June 1, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

If the defendant had stated he wished to remain silent, the questioning would have stopped. If he had asked for a lawyer to be present, the questioning would have stopped.

By not making his wishes known, the questioning continued until he voluntarily answered. His answers were admissible and his Miranda rights were not violated.

How long should he be non-responsive before his subsequent answers are not admissible? 30 minutes? An hour? Five hours? Tell us Justice Sotomayor, what is your new law?

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | June 1, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

If you actually read the "Miranda" warning, it tells the suspect that anything they say may be used against them in a court of law. Furthermore, the fact that someone has been "Mirandized" does not preclude exactly what was done here. That is, to elicit a response about the case which "may be used against them."

While on active duty with the Army, I "Mirandized" quite a few suspects. After given their warnings, if they said anything about the case, we weren't unable to use such statements in a court martial.

I guess Perry Mason would be spinning in his grave :-) All those "confessions" from the stand in his TV show would be thrown out on appeal as the subject was not given his rights before telling the truth.

Posted by: mr1492 | June 1, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

For once I agree with the court. Enough of this BS. We need an edge against the bad guys.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | June 1, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Contrary to what's reported, the decision allows a person two options to invoke his right to remain silent: 1) shut up; or 2) verbally invoke that right. The decision makes a lot of sense. If you want to remain silent, then shut up. If you want to speak up, then you're fair game, unless it's to tell the cops you want to remain silent.

Posted by: mqpham | June 1, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

We now have to "opt in" for our Miranda Rights rather than "op out" as was the situation. Law enforcement may now presume that you have no right to no self-incrimination unless you say you do. This is backwards.

This opens the way to other questions: Must the individual invoke the Miranda Rights verbally? Does sign language or head shaking to stop the questionning qualify? If the person has no power of speech or cannot invoke it in English, is there an accommodation for that individual?

Posted by: coachexec | June 1, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Another infringement on citizens rights by the right-wing Supreme Court. This country is going backwards under the ultra-conservatives in this country. It's time for the Centrists to take the country back before they destroy us and our freedoms.

Posted by: dzud2008 | June 1, 2010 1:44 PM

I hate to break it to you, but the "Centrists", a label that I would use on myself, are pretty much ok with our legal system putting away a bad guy after he incriminates himself, despite being read his miranda rights. A violent criminal getting away with murder on a technicality would have been a greater injustice and threat to our society.

Posted by: BKDenver | June 1, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The RATS are at it again. There will be no civil rights in this country if these wingnuts continue to get their way.

Posted by: frodot | June 1, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

He got a Miranda warning. He didn't have to talk. You can't protect people from being dumb.

Posted by: info4 | June 1, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

**The court ruled 5 to 4**

What a surprise. The GOP activist 5/4 split, delivered by the Reagan/Bush years, that installed Bush Jr.

Indeed elections have consequences. For those who want their Constitution back, we cannot get that split reversed fast enough. We're not weaker with due process and individual protections against Police State, we're stronger because of them.

Balkingpoints / www

Posted by: RField7 | June 1, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Should we surprised? We have 4 justices who are hostile to personal rights and freedoms of individuals but hold most sacred the rights of companies to pollute and distort the political process. We have the liar Roberts who has spent most of his judicial tenure as Chief Justice spitting on precedent. You remember precedent, Roberts, that was the one who lied through your teeth during your confirmation saying you hold precedent as most important -- except when it comes to doing the bidding of your political masters. Dark days with judicial activism at its worst. And it WILL get worse. This is why elections matter because we end up with far right wing idealogues like Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts.

Posted by: philly2 | June 1, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

This ruling actually makes sense. The judges must have been thinking: 'Instead of allowing prosecutors to waste time questioning the suspect for hours, the suspect can speak up and say: "I will only speak with my attorney present.".' That should stop the questioning process right there and then.

Posted by: genxandy | June 1, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Oh come on. What is it with this court. Miranda is in place to protect suspects. Now the court has allowed a way for law enforcement to dodge every American's civil rights. This right-wing court is a disgrace.

Posted by: jckdoors | June 1, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Yes indeed this hog wash decision is turning the law upside down. It will end up the police stating that the accused never exercised the rights and the cops therefore at their will torture and interrogate with reckless abandon and impunity.

Posted by: winemaster2 | June 1, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

What's next? Deny rights because the accused failed to cite the correct provision of the Constitution? He said Miranda rights, not 5th and 6th Amendment rights. Hang 'em high!

Miranda rights say you have the right to remain silent. Exercising that right isn't enough. I thought actions speak louder than words.

Posted by: Garak | June 1, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Finally, some common sense.

If you don't wish to be questioned, say so.
If you want a lawyer present, say so.

I am glad that there is an ounce of common sense left on the USSC, I only hope it is not as rare of a comodity as I believe it to be.

Posted by: Disbelief | June 1, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

The GOP court has has taken more rights from citizens. The activist court wants to create law, not interpret it. Leave it to the GOP to try to rule through the Supreme Court. That's real American.

Posted by: augwest77 | June 1, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Finally, we will have less criminals getting off on technicalities. Thank goodnees - poor scumbag lawyers don't get this defense anymore.

Posted by: password11 | June 1, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Do you now have to vocally declair your Constitutional rights for them to be in effect? Cops can shoot you for possesing a firearm unless you yell "I claim my 2nd Amendment rights"? You can be jailed for speaking your mind unless you preface your statement with "I claim my 1st Amendment rights"? The activist Right wing of the Supreme Court is slowly eroding our rights under the Constitution. At least the Left wing used to grant rights not take them away.

Posted by: Lefty_ | June 1, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I presume from the ruling of the court today, that should a suspect need to go to the bathroom, they need say nothing, as it might result in, per this ruling, an understanding of their rights under Miranda. Therefore they should just sit there and void themselves, without a word and need not respond to their interrogator(s) even should they inquire as to why.

Posted by: ewjazzed | June 1, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

The defendant told police that he prayed to God for forgiveness for killing a boy, but on sober reflection he decided that getting off for the crime was more important than taking responsibility. "Forget what I said, God, I'm gonna beat this rap."

Posted by: Rob_ | June 1, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

This decision is another example of conservative judicial activism. The words of the original Miranda decision are quite clear: "After such warnings have been given, and such opportunity afforded him, the individual may knowingly and intelligently waive these rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement. But unless and until such warnings and waiver are demonstrated by the prosecution at trial, no evidence obtained as a result of interrogation can be used against him." The conservative majority of this court seems determined to reverse as much of the rights revolution of the past 60 years as they can.

I was also amused by the commenter who stated that Perry Mason confessions would be ruled inadmissable by Miranda since (leaving aside the obvious fact that Perry Mason was hardly legally realistic) the warning is only required after someone is arrested and in custody. It does not apply to courtroom witnesses. For those readers who want to comment about the Miranda decision, please read it first.

Posted by: polprof | June 1, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

As Justice Kennedy said, this was "an extension of the logic in a previous case that said a suspect must affirmatively assert his right to counsel."

He was not provided a lawyer during questioning. Was his Miranda right to an attorney violated? No, because he did not ask for one.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | June 1, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

So the court spoke on Miranda.

Is DOJ going to file its papers on the Arizona fiasco, asserting US federal authority in the pre-empted area, immigration law?

Or shall we have 50 separate laws governing the sovereignity of the US and authority to determine procedures for legal status in the US.

We could wait for the second civil war; there is enough anti-hispanic hatred during this recession to burn down the house once Arizona lit the fire.

Knock, Knock, DOJ, anybody home and working at the department?


From NY Daily News

The Arizona anti-immigration law has been beset by boycotts and demonstrations, yet a new poll suggests more Americans may want one just like it for their state.

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, 48% say they want their state to pass an Arizona-style immigration law.

The Arizona immigration law has emerged as a major divide in the country, but the numbers are on the side of those supporting it," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"The strong plurality who say they would like a similar law in their own state probably portends the law will be an issue in many, many campaigns this November across the country."

However, according to the same poll, 45% feel that the Arizona law will lead to discrimination against Hispanics.

Posted by: bozorecon | June 1, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Shouldn't the effect of this ruling be, that no one should ever answer a police officer's questions without a lawyer's, no matter how innocent the questions seem?

There is always a danger that one will accidentally incriminate oneself via some small misstatement... the laws are so weird, who could possibly guess what is incriminating and what isn't?

Posted by: Don19 | June 1, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

This makes perfect sense. One asserts one's rights be exercising them or by declaring them. In the case of the right to an attorney, a suspect can declare "I want an attorney." At the point questioning must stop and an attorney provided. In the case of freedom of speech, or the press or religion, one asserts the right by exercising it: speaking, writing things, praying. This is true of the second amendment, the fifth amendmentt and other exercisable rights. (Some rights are not exercised, such as the right to due process, this just comes with the program.)


In the case of remaining silent, one can simply remain silent, or one can declare "I exercise my right to remain silent to stop questioning." Once the Miranda warning of rights has been given and clearly understood, there is nothing to stop the cops from asking questions.

There are numerous "exceptions" to these defendent rights that apply. Usually they are applied in murder cases where otherwise the murderer would go free.

Posted by: krush01 | June 1, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

If an illegal alien confuses to crime in Spanish, but not in English does it count? Or does it only count in Arizona, but not California?

Posted by: richard36 | June 1, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

So we can see that Sotomayor is only interested in "outcome based justice"?

All he had to do was remain silent or tell them he wasn't going to answer questions, then remain silent but he did neither. I guess they should have read his mind on wanting a lawyer too. I suppose under her theory of justice he could invoke his right to remain silent, then make a complete and utter confession, then ask that it be thrown out because he hadn't waived his right to remain silent.

Posted by: ronjaboy | June 1, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

The bad guys know 'the law' they will vocally claim their right to remain silent. The poor fool or first time offender will get caught in this legal Catch-22 because we don't want to coddle criminals.

If everyone, including law enforcement personnel, acted honestly we would not have to worry about variations on Miranda, banks too big to fail, unforseen accidents in the Gulf, Enron, WorldCom, etc.

Posted by: EricBenson | June 1, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

This is definitely a step-backwards...The language should include that once an individual as indicated that they wish to remain silent, then law enforcementshould cease any and all questions. How does one ensure that law enforcement will then remove themselves? Americans are losing all of their civil rights, and we have illegal immigrants complaining because they have to produce id like American citizens...where is the justice...certainly not in the Supreme Court

Posted by: 1April | June 2, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

i whole heartedly agree with Sotomayor, this is simply fancy lingo for "yes, yes, we are taking away your miranda rights."I know there are a lot of hard-core right wingers thinking this is a good thing. too many criminals have too many loopholes to hide in. Most would say that if youre not a criminally minded person you have nothing to worry about. I say tell that to the people who rationalized the taking away of their neighbors in Nazi, Germany. Our rights are not here to protect or aid the criminal--criminal abuse of the system is a side effect! wake up people and realize that your rights are here to protect the innocent man in the unlikely event that for reasons of your own doing or not you have now found yourself in the unfathomable role of criminal. That's what our rights and civil liberties are about. Youre letting them take away your insurance policy--everybody knows that it's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. You have to stop thinking of yourselves as belonging to one class and therefore seperate from the other classes of people; at the end of the day we are all Americans and what you do to my fellow American you also do to me. Wrap your heads around it people before it's too late!!!!!!!

Posted by: snglmom | June 2, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Some members of the Supreme Court have never been at risk for police abuse. They have been sheltered by their affluence and sometimes race. As a Justice, they have no concept of the natural escalation of police power. The founding fathers understood this. This is the reason that the constitution prohibits forced self incrimination.

It seems we all forget, our Constitution and laws are to protect the innocent.

Posted by: jsump | June 2, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

MIranda is Court made law derived from the case by the same name, "Miranda v. Arizona". The Constitution and all susequent statutes enacted by congress do not require that a person be told about the law or his rights prior to being charged with violating the law. Knowledge of the law is presumed. The Miranda decision addressed, specifically, the Bill of Rights. The right against self-incrimination and the right to counsel. the right against self-incrimination is exercised by the fact that the government can not COMPEL a person to make statements against themselves. When a person, being detained or arrested/ in custody request an attorney that person must be provided an attorney. Miranda was decided to prevent coercive police interrogations which were conducted to gain confessions. This ruling states that a person in custody must expressly invoke his right to remain silent to stop police questioning. Are there any other rights of the accused in the Bill of Rights which must be expressly invoked before being obtained? Right to counsel? Yes/No. While a defendant must ask for counsel during police questioning, once he is arraigned he must expressly request to represent himself and prove that he can do so-in court. Right against search and seizure? No. Unless a person or his property is searched incident to arrest or by search warrant, an officer may only search by expressed consent. Due Process-must be expressly waived-only in court. Right to trial by jury, right to speedy trial and the right to public trial must all be expressly waived in court. It appears that the 48hr pre-arraignment police interrogation time frame is a unique legal entity. Murder suspects, especially, are at their most vulnerable point. It is during this "golden hour" that detectives have the greatest opportunity to get incriminating statements and thus achieve justice. Justice, the victim's rights, is the ultimate goal of our legal system. Miranda was decided to prevent unreasonable police interrogations which often produced bad confessions. Please note that a criminal defendant can not be convicted based solely upon his confession. There must be additional evidence to corroborate the confession.

Posted by: CoBo | June 2, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

How sad that so many of you find this fair, and automatically assume arrested people are guilty people. It's very telling that you think is will make justice more efficient. I also find it strange that silence is considered an answer. How is silence automatically complicance? Silence is nothing. The Miranda should have to be answered clearly if the suspect is able. Does anyone find anything strange about the suspect being silent for nearly three hours then suddenly anwering a religion based question? Screams mental illness, or extreme fatigue. Maybe the police used genius interrogation....I'm not saying he is automatically innocent but, if he was aware of everything as so many of you want to assume, calling him dumb and all, then this sudden confession from a sane person after 3 hours when God is used, seems a bit off.

Posted by: kmcampbell7 | June 2, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

How sad that so many of you find this fair, and automatically assume arrested people are guilty people. It's very telling that you think is will make justice more efficient. I also find it strange that silence is considered an answer. How is silence automatically complicance? Silence is nothing. The Miranda should have to be answered clearly if the suspect is able. Does anyone find anything strange about the suspect being silent for nearly three hours then suddenly anwering a religion based question? Screams mental illness, or extreme fatigue. Maybe the police used genius interrogation....I'm not saying he is automatically innocent but, if he was aware of everything as so many of you want to assume, calling him dumb and all, then this sudden confession from a sane person after 3 hours when God is used, seems a bit off.

Posted by: kmcampbell7 | June 2, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

How sad that so many of you find this fair, and automatically assume arrested people are guilty people. It's very telling that you think is will make justice more efficient. I also find it strange that silence is considered an answer. How is silence automatically complicance? Silence is nothing. The Miranda should have to be answered clearly if the suspect is able. Does anyone find anything strange about the suspect being silent for nearly three hours then suddenly anwering a religion based question? Screams mental illness, or extreme fatigue. Maybe the police used genius interrogation....I'm not saying he is automatically innocent but, if he was aware of everything as so many of you want to assume, calling him dumb and all, then this sudden confession from a sane person after 3 hours when God is used, seems a bit off.

Posted by: kmcampbell7 | June 2, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

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