FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

Exclusive: What the Supreme Court's New Miranda Decision Means to You

The new U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Miranda invocation and waiver in Berghuis v. Thompkins, No. 08-1470, loosens the rules for questioning suspects.

June 02, 2010  |  by Devallis Rutledge - Also by this author


Photo via Flickr (San Diego Shooter).

On June 1, 2010, the Supreme Court decided an important Miranda case arising from a Michigan murder case. Here are the facts:

Chester Thompkins was arrested and given a standard Miranda warning and gave evidence that he understood his rights. Officers made no effort to obtain an express waiver but began asking questions. For some two hours and 45 minutes, Thompkins was essentially non-responsive, although he occasionally nodded his head or said "I don't know," or "Yes" or "No" to something the officers said. Then, officers asked if he believed in God and would pray to God to forgive him "for killing that boy." Thompkins said he would.

This answer was used at trial to convict Thompkins of murder. His appeals took him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he made several arguments of Miranda error. By 5-4 decision, the court held that no Miranda error occurred.

First, Thompkins argued that he effectively invoked his right to silence by actually remaining silent. The court majority rejected this argument and ruled that in order for a custodial suspect to invoke either his right to counsel or his right to silence, he must unambiguously communicate his desire to do so. For example, he could have said, "I don't want to talk," or "I want a lawyer." Because he did neither, the court held that he failed to invoke his Miranda rights.

Second, Thompkins argued that because he never gave a waiver, officers could not proceed with interrogation. This argument was also rejected by the court. The court pointed out that one of its previous decisions had held that a Miranda waiver may be either express or implied. A waiver is "express" when the suspect is specifically asked after warnings and acknowledgment of understanding whether he wants to talk about what happened, and expressly says he is willing. A waiver is "implied" when the suspect is warned and acknowledges his understanding of his rights and then answers questions put to him, without first being asked whether he agrees to talk. In this case, the court ruled that Thompkins gave an implied waiver by eventually responding to the officers' questions.

Third, Thompkins argued that his statement was involuntary because officers referred to his religious beliefs to prompt him to incriminate himself. Again citing to one of its previous cases, the court said that there was nothing improper in this tactic, since only "coercion emanating from official sources" could cause a statement to be involuntary.

This significant new decision firmly establishes that once a suspect has received the Miranda warnings and indicates that he understands his rights, officers are not required to ask whether he wishes to waive or invoke but may simply start asking questions about the case. If a statement is ultimately obtained, it will be admissible under Miranda.

(This case and the issues will be examined in greater detail in the "Point of Law" department in a forthcoming issue of POLICE magazine.)

Do you agree with the Court's decision? Vote in our Web Poll.

Tags: U.S. Supreme Court Cases, Miranda Law


Be the first to comment on this story





POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

"Unarmed" Suspects and Un-brained Media
Few if any pseudo-journalists or pseudo-pundits on the nightly news have bothered to...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Rank:
Agency:
Address:
City:
State:
  
Zip Code:
 
Country:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine