Supreme Court Ruling In Michigan Case Weakens Miranda Rights

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Berghuis v. Thompkins now requires those accused of crimes, including sex crimes, to speak up if they wish to remain silent.

For more than forty years, Miranda warnings have been a fundamental part of the criminal justice system. Since 1966, police have been required to notify those accused of crimes of their Miranda rights. Miranda Rights set forth an individual’s rights under the Fifth Amendment – i.e. that an accused has the right against self-incrimination and to have proper legal counsel.

Often, those accused of Michigan criminal sexual conduct make the mistake of believing that police are there to help. Instead police may use lies, lengthy interrogations, or other tactics in the hopes of getting individuals to make self-incriminating statements, which may be used against them in a court of law. Miranda warnings are one of the few protections criminal defendants have against over-zealous law enforcement officers.

Prior to this recent decision, police and prosecutors had to show that the criminally accused understood the warning and knowingly waived his right to self-incrimination. However, the Supreme Court has now weakened these rights by ruling that individuals must specifically and unambiguously announce their intent to invoke their Miranda Rights.

In Berghuis v. Thompkins, a Michigan man – Van Chester Thompkins – was read his rights, but refused to sign a form indicating that he understood them. After nearly 3 hours of interrogation, he remained mostly silent. When police officers asked him a self-incriminating question, Thompkins answered “yes” and was then convicted primarily due to this answer.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the “yes” should not have been allowed because Thompkins had implicitly invoked his Miranda rights by remaining silent. The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that criminal suspects must unambiguously express their intent to remain silent.

Making the accused “speak up” places an unfair burden on individuals and transfers even more power and discretion into the hands of potentially overzealous law enforcement officials.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues in her dissent, the decision “turns Miranda upside down,” not only because it requires a suspect to speak to invoke the right to silence, but because “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.”

If you or a loved one has been accused of a sex-crime, please contact Grabel & Associates, a Michigan law firm dedicated to sex crimes defense.

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