Supreme Court: Speak Up to Remain Silent

The Truth About Guns is about guns. So we’d like to point out that today’s Supreme Court ruling on MIranda Rights concerned the shooting death of a man named Samuel Morris in 2001. A survivor of the attack fingered Van Chester Thompkins as the trigger man. Police arrested Thompkins and read him his Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be uses against you . . . .). The po-po proceeded to interrogate Thompkins for three hours, during which time he said sweet F.A. However, during the “interview,” one of the officers asked Tompkins if he prayed for forgiveness for “shooting that boy down.” Thompkins said, “Yes.” He was convicted of the crime. On appeal, Thompkins lawyers argued that the court should throw out the statement, claiming his client invoked his Miranda rights by remaining uncommunicative with the interrogating officers. The Supremes threw out the throwing out . . .

Speaking for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that Thompkins’ silence during his interrogation wasn’t good enough. “If a suspect makes an ambiguous or equivocal invocation of that right. Police are not required to end their questioning.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

“Today’s decision turns Miranda upside down,” she wrote. “Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which, counter-intuitively, requires them to speak. At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so.”

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

7 Responses to Supreme Court: Speak Up to Remain Silent

  1. avatarBrent Nelson says:

    Pretty slippery how these liberals twist words around to suit their specific agendas.

  2. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Without knowing more about the case I'm inclined to agree with the majority. Thompkins could have ended the questioning at any time by uttering the words "I don't want to say anything. I want a lawyer."

    Unlike silly programs like "Law and Order" or "NYPD Blue" where the cops then proceed to try and talk the suspect out of invoking his rights, most police departments are pretty scrupulous about stopping the questioning at that point (especially if the interrogation is videotaped.) Had Thompkins stated that he was not interested in talking, the cops would have been required to stop the interrogation, and if they didn't, his subsequent statements could have been excluded.

    The lesson here should be clear: 1. Know your rights. 2. Be absolutely clear and unambiguous when asserting your rights.

    • avatarDonal Fagan says:

      There are some bad apples, though:

      They did switch to a second torture treatment, which was the shotgun, where they got their shotgun, pump shotgun, out the back—out the trunk of the car, and Peter Dignan, which is another one of the detectives, the most vicious one out of all of them, he proceeded to ask me some more questions about the murder and to tell me what they knew had already occurred and wanted me to fill in the gaps. I refused to do so. He took a shotgun shell, showed it to me, and his exact words were, "Listen, nigger"—and that’s when he turned his back to me. I heard a clicking sound, which seemed like it was the shell being placed in the chamber. He turned back around to face me, I no longer seeing a shotgun shell. So they continued to ask me questions. I refused to answer. One of them said, "Go ahead, blow that nigger’s head off." And that’s when Peter Dignan forced the shotgun in my mouth. And he said, "You’re not going to tell me what I want to hear? You’re not going to tell me?" I said, "No." And that’s when he pulled the trigger. They did a mock execution three times. The third time they did it, when I heard the trigger pull, in my mind, I thought he was blowing the back of my head off, because the hair on the back of my head stood straight up when I heard that click.

      http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/24/trial_begin

      • avatarMartin Albright says:

        Okay – not really relevant to the issue as coerced confessions are always inadmissible. The issue for the Court would be whether Thompkins' non-cooperation constituted an invocation of his 5th amendment rights. The Court said it did not, and I agree with them.

    • One more lesson: don't shoot two strangers without provocation in a mall parking lot (or at least if you do, make sure both are dead so the survivor can't finger you).

  3. The last thing the honorable Mr. Thompkins said before unloading a torrent of lead into Samuel Morris (killing him) and Frederick France was, "What you say, Big Dog?" I guess that qualifies on the street as mirandizing your victim before you act as judge, jury and executioner.

    According to the appeal, Thompkins was verbally advised of his rights and he verbally acknowledged that he understood them, although he refused to sign a police form attesting to such. At no point did he request an attorney. At no point did he indicate that he wished to exercise his right to silence. Over nearly three hours he was mostly silent but did episodically speak with the detectives.

    Clearly the Supremes took the correct action here. This man had every opportunity to end the interrogation. Clearly the perp wanted the truth to be known – since he found god and all.

    Full text of the appeal: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/08a0409p

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