Everyone who’s ever seen police shows knows about the Miranda warning that officers have to give before a suspect (aka “the perp”) can be interrogated.

A ruling this week by the U.S. Supreme Court makes questioning easier for the police, however. And that could mean an alteration in the script — both in drama and in real life — requiring people to be more outgoing about claiming their rights.

We’ve all seen suspects told something like this: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights?”

These are the famous Miranda rights, named after Ernesto Arturo Miranda, who was convicted of kidnapping and rape in Arizona in 1963 after confessing to police. His lawyer appealed, saying Miranda did not understand his constitutional right not to incriminate himself, and in 1966 the Supreme Court agreed. Although Miranda was convicted again without his confession, the court held that most admissions made in ignorance after being detained are inadmissible. So, Miranda cards appeared, to be recited to those being interrogated for crimes.

This week, the court modified previous practice by holding in a 5-4 decision that, in effect, the right to remain silent can’t be exercised by remaining silent. To stop being questioned after being “Mirandized,” suspects must say out loud they want to keep quiet, just as they must say that they want a lawyer.

That means police can keep on questioning a silent suspect for as long as they wish, hoping for a confession. The change isn’t huge, but it does tip the balance a bit more toward police and away from citizens.

So, citizens hauled in for questioning have to be more aggressive about asserting their rights.

Otherwise, they may find that silence isn’t golden at all.

 


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