June 1, 2010

Miranda Rights: See Rule One

The Supreme Court today handed down a case in which they made it clear that a criminal suspect must invoke his Miranda rights or they are waived.  While that sounds bad at first blush, on the facts of the case, I can't say the Supremes blew the call.  The basic story is, the arrestee sat silent for nearly three hours without a lawyer in the room, and then when asked, "Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?" and the arrestee then looked away and said "Yes." 

Well, guess what.  That's a waiver of the right to remain silent, and the cops should indeed be able to use that statement in court.  And based almost exclusively on the strength of this one-word confession, the defendant is convicted of first-degree murder, a sentence upheld today.  So what have we learned here?

First, cops are very persistent and sometimes very sneaky about how they get you to waive your rights.  Human beings feel a basic impulse to talk and be social with one another, and here, the cop used nearly three hours of time to deprive the arrestee of that kind of social contact so as to elicit an admission.

Second, particularly if you're religious, beware of appeals to your religiosity, even from those whom you have reason to trust (not that the arrestee had any reason to trust the cop here).  If you adopt religion into your world view, you are voluntarily rendering yourself vulnerable to this sort of mind game.  That's not to say there aren't other kinds of mind games the cop could have played on the defendant here.  But religion provides a a pretty easy mind game for a cop to use.

Third, if you've been convicted based on a confession, you can count on a very skeptical judiciary that will probably labor to uphold your conviction.

And fourth -- particularly if you've been arrested, shut up. Let your lawyer do your talking for you.


Rob Osterman said...

Maybe people don't watch enough Law and Order/ CSI/ NCIS/ Bones anymore. Even if I'm totally innocent I won't risk it. Get a lawyer, pay the bill, it's going to be cheaper than dealing with the full case and trial. "I have nothing to hide" should be listed among the most famous last words.

Deraj said...

Although I haven't read the opinion yet (watch out - here comes some bad assumption based anlaysis), it seems to me that this opinion makes bad law and doesn't provide much in the way of guidance to the officers. If 3 hours happened to be enough to wear down this defendant, what about 6 or 9 or 12?
On the other hand, I completely agree that mere silence is an inadequate invocation of the right to silence. Would that mean that law enforcement must cease questioning after 30 min. of silence? It seems to me that the Court could have come to a better result with a stronger justice hammering out a compromise. Then again, what do I know?