Supreme Court Issues New Guidance on Miranda

Today, in a 5-4 decision, the Court issued an opinion in Berghuis v. Thompkins. The Court held that that a defendant who refused to sign a waiver form after being advised of his Miranda rights, and then was silent for most of a three-hour custodial interrogation before incriminating himself in a shooting, had waived his right to remain silent. The Court averred that person given Miranda warnings must invoke Miranda’s right to silence “unambiguously.”

Officers approached Thompkins, read him his rights, but Thompkins refused to sign the waiver form. Eventually the officers asked him if he believed in God and prayed. Thompkins said yes. Thompkins began to shed tears. Then the officers inquired if he asked God’s forgiveness for murdering the victim. Thompkins said that he did. This statement was used against him at trial. He was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

The Court concluded that Thompkins, who “did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk” had not unambiguously invoked the right to silence. The Court rejected Thompkins’ argument that the police were required to obtain a waiver of his Miranda rights before questioning him.

This decision makes sense to me. All Thompkins has to do was tell the officers that he did not want to talk or ask them for an attorney. Had he done so, the interrogation would have stopped. “Miranda rights” are of judicial creation anyway. No harm is done in requiring the accused to actually invoke the protections before deciding to suppress evidence.

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