4 Jun 2010

Accused to opt for silence, no inferences: US Supreme Court

Silence alone is not sufficient; one has to say that he wants to remain silent. So is the law declared by the United States Supreme Court by 5-4 majority in Berghuis v. Thompkins, a decision released on 1st of this month. Ever since the same court in 1966 declared that an accused was required to be informed of his constitutional right to stay silent each police officer was under a mandatory obligation to inform the same to each accused in what was christened as the 'Miranda rights' of an accused. The recent decision, however, seems to have turned the tide holding that such a right has to be specifically exercised with the accused informing the police the exercise of his right. 

The Court declared that the accused had to specifically opt to remain silent and it was no fault of the investigators that they kept questioning the accused dispute he not answering questions for a while when in the end the accused did speak up and confessed of his crime. The United States Supreme Court further declared that my replies to the questions put up, the accused waived his Miranda rights to remain silent and thus it was sufficient compliance with law on the part of the investigating authorities to show that the accused was informed of his rights and nonetheless replied to the queries. The majority opinion inter alia observed as under;

Thompkins makes various arguments that his answers to questions from the detectives were inadmissible. He first contends that he “invoke[d] his privilege” to remain silent by not saying anything for a sufficient period of time, so the interrogation should have “cease[d]” before hemade his inculpatory statements. Id., at 474; see Mosley, 423 U. S., at 103 (police must “‘scrupulously hono[r]’” this “critical safeguard” when the accused invokes his or her“‘right to cut off questioning’” (quoting Miranda, supra, at 474, 479)).
This argument is unpersuasive. In the context of invok-ing the Miranda right to counsel, the Court in Davis v. United States, 512 U. S. 452, 459 (1994), held that a sus-pect must do so “unambiguously.” If an accused makes a statement concerning the right to counsel “that is ambiguous or equivocal” or makes no statement, the police are not required to end the interrogation, ibid., or ask questions toclarify whether the accused wants to invoke his or her Miranda rights, 512 U. S., at 461–462.
The Court has not yet stated whether an invocation of the right to remain silent can be ambiguous or equivocal,but there is no principled reason to adopt different stan-dards for determining when an accused has invoked the Miranda right to remain silent and the Miranda right to counsel at issue in Davis. See, e.g., Solem v. Stumes, 465 U. S. 638, 648 (1984) (“[M]uch of the logic and language of [Mosley],” which discussed the Miranda right to remain silent, “could be applied to the invocation of the [Miranda right to counsel]”). Both protect the privilege againstcompulsory self-incrimination, Miranda, supra, at 467– 473, by requiring an interrogation to cease when either right is invoked, Mosley, supra, at 103 (citing Miranda, supra, at 474); Fare v. Michael C., 442 U. S. 707, 719 (1979).
There is good reason to require an accused who wants to invoke his or her right to remain silent to do so unambiguously. A requirement of an unambiguous invocation of Miranda rights results in an objective inquiry that“avoid[s] difficulties of proof and . . . provide[s] guidance to officers” on how to proceed in the face of ambiguity. Davis, 512 U. S., at 458–459. If an ambiguous act, omission, or statement could require police to end the interrogation, police would be required to make difficult decisions about an accused’s unclear intent and face the consequence of suppression “if they guess wrong.” Id., at 461. Suppres-sion of a voluntary confession in these circumstanceswould place a significant burden on society’s interest inprosecuting criminal activity. See id., at 459–461; Moran v. Burbine, 475 U. S. 412, 427 (1986). Treating an am-biguous or equivocal act, omission, or statement as an invocation of Miranda rights “might add marginally to Miranda’s goal of dispelling the compulsion inherent in custodial interrogation.” Burbine, 475 U. S., at 425. But “as Miranda holds, full comprehension of the rights toremain silent and request an attorney are sufficient todispel whatever coercion is inherent in the interrogationprocess.” Id., at 427; see Davis, supra, at 460.
Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silentor that he did not want to talk with the police. Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his “‘right to cut off questioning.’” Mosley, supra, at 103 (quoting Miranda, supra, at 474). Here he did neither, so he did not invoke his right to re-main silent.

Although Miranda imposes on the police a rule that is both formalistic and practical when it prevents them from interrogating suspects without first providing them with a Miranda warning, see Burbine, 475 U. S., at 427, it does not impose a formalistic waiver procedure that a suspect must follow to relinquish those rights. As a generalproposition, the law can presume that an individual who,with a full understanding of his or her rights, acts in a manner inconsistent with their exercise has made a delib-erate choice to relinquish the protection those rights af-ford. See, e.g., Butler, supra, at 372–376; Connelly, supra, at 169–170 (“There is obviously no reason to require more in the way of a ‘voluntariness’ inquiry in the Miranda waiver context than in the [due process] confession context”). The Court’s cases have recognized that a waiver of Miranda rights need only meet the standard of Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U. S. 458, 464 (1938). See Butler, supra, at 374–375; Miranda, supra, at 475–476 (applying Zerbst standard of intentional relinquishment of a known right).As Butler recognized, 441 U. S., at 375–376, Miranda rights can therefore be waived through means less formal than a typical waiver on the record in a courtroom, cf. Fed.Rule Crim. Proc. 11, given the practical constraints andnecessities of interrogation and the fact that Miranda’s main protection lies in advising defendants of their rights, see Davis, 512 U. S., at 460; Burbine, 475 U. S., at 427.

The record in this case shows that Thompkins waived his right to remain silent. There is no basis in this case to conclude that he did not understand his rights; and on these facts it follows that he chose not to invoke or rely onthose rights when he did speak. First, there is no conten-tion that Thompkins did not understand his rights; and from this it follows that he knew what he gave up when he spoke. See id., at 421. There was more than enough evidence in the record to conclude that Thompkins understood his Miranda rights. Thompkins received a written copy of the Miranda warnings; Detective Helgert determined that Thompkins could read and understand English; and Thompkins was given time to read the warnings. Thompkins, furthermore, read aloud the fifth warning,which stated that “you have the right to decide at any timebefore or during questioning to use your right to remainsilent and your right to talk with a lawyer while you are being questioned.” Brief for Petitioner 60 (capitalization omitted). He was thus aware that his right to remain silent would not dissipate after a certain amount of time and that police would have to honor his right to be silent and his right to counsel during the whole course of interrogation. Those rights, the warning made clear, could be asserted at any time. Helgert, moreover, read the warn-ings aloud.
Second, Thompkins’s answer to Detective Helgert’s question about whether Thompkins prayed to God for forgiveness for shooting the victim is a “course of conductindicating waiver” of the right to remain silent. Butler, supra, at 373. If Thompkins wanted to remain silent, he could have said nothing in response to Helgert’s questions,or he could have unambiguously invoked his Miranda rights and ended the interrogation. The fact that Thompkins made a statement about three hours after receiving a Miranda warning does not overcome the fact that heengaged in a course of conduct indicating waiver. Police are not required to rewarn suspects from time to time. Thompkins’s answer to Helgert’s question about praying to God for forgiveness for shooting the victim was suffi-cient to show a course of conduct indicating waiver. This is confirmed by the fact that before then Thompkinshad given sporadic answers to questions throughout theinterrogation.
Third, there is no evidence that Thompkins’s statement was coerced. See Burbine, supra, at 421. Thompkins does not claim that police threatened or injured him during the interrogation or that he was in any way fearful. The interrogation was conducted in a standard-sized room in the middle of the afternoon. It is true that apparently he was in a straight-backed chair for three hours, but there isno authority for the proposition that an interrogation of this length is inherently coercive. Indeed, even where interrogations of greater duration were held to be improper, they were accompanied, as this one was not, by other facts indicating coercion, such as an incapacitated and sedated suspect, sleep and food deprivation, and threats. Cf. Connelly, 479 U. S., at 163–164, n. 1. The fact that Helgert’s question referred to Thompkins’s religious beliefs also did not render Thompkins’s statement invol-untary. “[T]he Fifth Amendment privilege is not con-cerned ‘with moral and psychological pressures to confessemanating from sources other than official coercion.’” Id., at 170 (quoting Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U. S. 298, 305 (1985)). In these circumstances, Thompkins knowingly and voluntarily made a statement to police, so he waived his right to remain silent.
Thompkins next argues that, even if his answer to Detective Helgert could constitute a waiver of his right toremain silent, the police were not allowed to question him until they obtained a waiver first. Butler forecloses this argument. The Butler Court held that courts can infer a waiver of Miranda rights “from the actions and words ofthe person interrogated.” 441 U. S., at 373. This principle  would be inconsistent with a rule that requires a waiver atthe outset. The Butler Court thus rejected the rule pro-posed by the Butler dissent, which would have “requir[ed] the police to obtain an express waiver of [Miranda rights] before proceeding with interrogation.” Id., at 379 (Bren-nan, J., dissenting). This holding also makes sense given that “the primary protection afforded suspects subject[ed] to custodial interrogation is the Miranda warnings them-selves.” Davis, 512 U. S., at 460. The Miranda rule and its requirements are met if a suspect receives adequate Miranda warnings, understands them, and has an opportunity to invoke the rights before giving any answers or admissions. Any waiver, express or implied, may be contradicted by an invocation at any time. If the right to counsel or the right to remain silent is invoked at any point during questioning, further interrogation must cease.
Interrogation provides the suspect with additional information that can put his or her decision to waive, or not to invoke, into perspective. As questioning commences and then continues, the suspect has the opportunity toconsider the choices he or she faces and to make a more informed decision, either to insist on silence or to cooper-ate. When the suspect knows that Miranda rights can be invoked at any time, he or she has the opportunity to reassess his or her immediate and long-term interests. Cooperation with the police may result in more favorable treatment for the suspect; the apprehension of accomplices; the prevention of continuing injury and fear; begin-ning steps towards relief or solace for the victims; and the beginning of the suspect’s own return to the law and the social order it seeks to protect.
In order for an accused’s statement to be admissible at trial, police must have given the accused a Miranda warning. See Miranda, 384 U. S., at 471. If that condition is established, the court can proceed to consider whether there has been an express or implied waiver of Miranda rights. Id., at 476. In making its ruling on the admissibility of a statement made during custodial questioning, the trial court, of course, considers whether there is evidence to support the conclusion that, from the whole course of questioning, an express or implied waiver has been established. Thus, after giving a Miranda warning, police may interrogate a suspect who has neither invoked nor waivedhis or her Miranda rights. On these premises, it follows the police were not required to obtain a waiver of Thompkins’s Miranda rights before commencing the interrogation.

The decision is available from this link on its official website of the Court.  

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