Supreme Court: Miranda Warnings Only Apply When Invoked

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By Jason Beahm on June 03, 2010 12:45 PM

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?

Thanks to television and movies, nearly everyone is familiar with the Miranda rights. Miranda warnings came to exist after the landmark 1966 Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona

Now in a bit of a paradox, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that in order to invoke your right to remain silent, you must speak. In a 5-4 split, the Court ruled that Miranda rights only apply when one affirmatively invokes their right against self incrimination, just as they must affirmatively request an attorney. 

The case, Berghuis v. Thompkins, involved Van Chester Thompkins, who was arrested and remained silent for several hours during a police interrogation. He eventually implicated himself for murder. On appeal, he argued that he had invoked his Miranda right prior to the confession, by remaining silent for a long period of time. 

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, did not agree.  The opinion came quickly to the point:

Thompkins' silence during the interrogation did not invoke his right to remain silent. A suspect's Miranda right to counsel must be invoked "unambiguously." If the accused makes an "ambiguous or equivocal" statement or no statement, the police are not required to end the interrogation, or ask questions to clarify the accused's intent.

Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk to police ... Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his 'right to cut off questioning.'

Justices Sotomayor, Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer dissented, contending that the ruling turned Americans' Miranda rights "upside down."

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