Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court substantially weakens Miranda rights in closely divided decision

The right wing assault on our civil liberties continues, thanks to John Roberts' conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which today "decisively tilted the [Miranda] warnings procedure towards the police", as SCOTUSBlog put it:
By a 5-4 vote, the Court for the first time made two things clear about Miranda rights: first, if a suspect does not want to talk to police — that is, to invoke a right to silence — he must say so, with a clear statement because it is not enough to sit silently or to remain uncooperative, even through a long session; and, second, if the suspect finally answers a suggestive question with a one-word response that amounts to a confession, that, by itself, will be understood as a waiver of the right to silence and the statement can be used as evidence. Police need not obtain an explicit waiver of that right.
Let me see if we've got this straight: In order for a suspect to invoke his or her right to silence, he or she has to speak up. Or in other words, not be silent. And one utterance in response to a question can be seized upon by police as a confession with no waiver required? So much for Miranda rights!

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor concluded in her soundly researched dissenting opinion (PDF), joined by Justices Stevens, Breyer, and Ginsburg:
Today’s decision turns Miranda upside down. Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak. At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so. Those results, in my view, find no basis in Miranda or our subsequent cases and are inconsistent with the fair-trial principles onwhich those precedents are grounded. Today’s broad new rules are all the more unfortunate because they are unnecessary to the disposition of the case before us. I respectfully dissent.
Once again, Justice Sotomayor has vindicated our hope that she would be an impartial and courageous jurist. This is a very fine dissenting opinion, which takes the trouble to neatly explain how the majority decision breaks the precedent established by Miranda and Butler.

But it is a shame that it is a dissenting opinion.

It's not too surprising that the one justice who once might have tipped the scales the other way was again selected to write the majority opinion for the conservatives. Chief Justice John Roberts continues to demonstrate how skilled he is at reeling in Anthony Kennedy, getting that crucial, deciding fifth vote to go with the four he already knows he has in most cases. Kennedy, who also authored the awful Corporations United decision, is no longer acting like a "swing" justice.

Instead, he has become an effective and consistent mouthpiece for Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas... to the detriment of the entire country.


Blogger Bob Horn said...

Who would've thought that John Roberts was so intent on rewriting the Constitution. It seems that the right wing oligarchy is firmly in control of America - not only do they own the Senate but now it appears that they own the Supreme Court as well. All power to the oligarchs!

June 15, 2010 2:11 PM  

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