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LEGAL BRIEFS: Miranda Rights Eroded by Supreme Court DecisionIn June, ruling in the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, the U.S. Supreme Court again eroded the protections afforded by the Miranda doctrine by ruling that a suspect must expressly invoke the right to remain silent; simply remaining silent is no longer sufficient to invoke that right. The practical effect of the ruling is that, unless a suspect specifically states that he or she wishes to remain silent, the right will be deemed to have been waived. Until now, the suspect had to affirmatively waive it.
The suspect in this case, Van Chester Thompkins, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He was read his Miranda rights and was given a form to sign to indicate he understood his Miranda rights, but he refused to sign the form.
Thompkins remained silent during the three hours police questioned him. However, when asked if he prayed for forgiveness for "shooting that boy down," he answered "yes," which ultimately led to his conviction of murder and life in prison.
In a 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, ruled that "a suspect who has received and understood the Miranda warnings, and has not invoked his Miranda rights, waives the right to remain silent by making an uncoerced statement to police." Justice Sotomayor, in her dissent stated that the "decision turns Miranda upside down. Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent --which, counter intuitively, requires them to speak."
The Supreme Court had previously weakened Miranda in earlier decisions by holding that statements obtained in violation of Miranda can be used to discredit a defendant who testifies differently at trial, and by creating a "public safety" exception, where police can question suspects without reading them their Miranda rights if there is an imminent danger to public safety-- an exception being used often in "terrorism" cases. The Court's most recent ruling now makes it much easier for prosecutors to argue that a suspect waived his or her Miranda rights.
Oregon Court Overturns 17-Year Sentence for Illegal Search of Teen at Mother's HouseShowing that the court system does sometimes correct injustices of the criminal justice system, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2010 overturned the 17-year prison sentence of a teenager arrested while trying to get into his mother's house where he was living, when he did not have a key. In December 2004, the teenager, Rian Struckman, was arrested with an unloaded gun in a backpack and convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm after Portland Police confronted him in his mother's back yard. Officers were called to the house by a neighbor who saw a man climb over the fence.
The Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, ruling that police must get a warrant or make a reasonable attempt to determine whether there was an actual trespass before making an arrest. The court ruled that the police had no probable cause to arrest or search Struckman because he lived at the house and was not trespassing or committing any other crime. Struckman repeatedly stated that he lived at the house and asked police to use his cell phone to call his mother to confirm it. They only determined he lived there after they had already conducted the search.
Portland Shootings on the Rise
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Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.