Miranda Warnings

Jul 6, 2013 by

In the recent Supreme Court Case of Salinas v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled on the question of whether or not the reading of Miranda Rights are necessary in cases where an individual comes forward voluntarily and if remaining silent during voluntary questioning is evidence in cases where a person does not invoke the right to remain silent.  Let us use a scenario to make things more clear.

Officer Steve is investigating the murder of Vince who was killed with an axe.  Officer Steve meets neighbor Jesse and tells Jesse, “If you wish, you can answer a few questions about what you saw the night Vince was killed.”  Jesse agrees to answer a few questions in his front lawn.  Officer Steve asks Jesse a few mundane questions about how well he knew the victim and if anything unusual happened.  Officer Steve than proceeds to ask Jesse if he owns an axe.  Jesse doesn’t want to answer this particular question, and, out of panic, remains silent.  The Officer notes this but continues questioning Jesse.  He asks Jesse if he knows anyone who would want to kill Vince.  Jesse responds, “I don’t know why someone would go out of their way to murder him with an axe in his bedroom.”  Now the details of where he was killed had not been released and Jesse claims to have been no where near the house since before the killing.  Thus Officer Steve arrests Jesse and uses this interview as evidence in Jesse’s trial.  Jesse claims his Miranda rights were never read.

Now, let us examine this scenario in two parts.  First, let us examine evidence of his remaining silent when asked about his axe.  Let us assume that it can be proven that this evidence was a part of a line of questioning asked to all of the neighbors, so it was not out of suspicion, but merely routine that this question was asked.  Jesse claims that he was using his right to remain silent during that question.  The court held that he did not expressly invoke his fifth amendment right to remain silent, therefore his silence was ambiguous.  Now, Jesse did not tell the officer he was invoking his right to remain silent at all.  Merely, he just sat there.  The court stated that the fifth amendment protects you from being forced to answer questions  which would incriminate yourself.  However, this was a voluntary interview and according to the courts, a witness who, “desires the protection of the privilege… must claim it.”  Minnesota v. Murphy.  A failure to claim the privilege is an ambiguous silence.  He may be remaining silent, or he may be thinking up a lie, or maybe he was protecting someone else.  It is not the duty of the officer to assume people are invoking their rights to remain silent when it has not been stated as a reason.

Secondly, Jesse wishes that his incriminating testimony be thrown out as well because of a failure to be read his Miranda rights prior to the interview.  The court ruled that because Jesse volunteered to be interviewed, he was not arrested and was free to leave as he wished, there was no need to read Jesse his Miranda rights.  The reading of Miranda rights has only been necessary in cases of being compelled to answer questions, not in cases where information is freely given.  The difference is Jesse being arrested and questioned or Jesse walking into the police station and confessing.  Being arrested and forced to answer questions, Jesse must be notified that they are only aloud to probe anywhere where Jesse allows them to so that he does not incriminate himself.  However, when Jesse walks in and confesses, he is giving information freely, it is not being asked of him.  The difference is in the first case, information is being taken and in the second, it is given.  In the first, the police are controlling the flow of information, in the second, Jesse is.  Jesse should be told the limits of their right to take information prior to their taking it, however, if Jesse is volunteering it, Jesse is in control in the first place.

Now, in regards to the law, I believe that the court was right in this decision.  I will grant off the bat that my scenario is different from the one in Salinas v. Texas.  However, the changes I made were to isolate the points of contention so that they can be better analyzed.  I think, from a legal standpoint, that what was stated in this case is in line with the original ruling on the reading of Miranda Rights.  However, let me end on a quick note on Miranda rights in general.  Though this ruling is in line with past decisions by the courts, I do not see Miranda rights as that great a necessity.  Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.  Your rights are your duty.  They are your responsibility.  In return for knowing them, defending them, and not giving them to another, you gain the benefit of using them as you see fit.  Thus, when arrested, because you are familiar with your rights, you need not be read your Miranda rights.  Being ignorant of the law is no excuse for committing a crime against it.  If you murder someone without any knowledge that it is a crime, you will not be spared the penalties.  If you do not know your rights when you can invoke them, you should not be spared the penalties.  They are your responsibility and to not learn them is to say you don’t want them.  Every right you have rests on your responsibility to know and defend them.  If we put it on others to remember them for us, it is they who are granting us these rights, not us exercising our own rights.

Here is the official Supreme Court Decision:  http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-246_7l48.pdf.

4 Comments

  1. Vince Giglio

    My first question is “what is testimony”? The dictionary defines testimony as:
    a. A declaration by a witness under oath, as that given before a court or deliberative body.
    b. All such declarations, spoken or written, offered in a legal case or deliberative hearing.
    c. Evidence in support of a fact or assertion; proof.

    I would assert, that a declaration by a witness could be a nonverbal gesture or movement. A deaf witness uses sign language, a gesture or movement, to convey meaning to a hearing world. The movement of the head in a particular direction could mean yes or no. Therefore, the following testimony would be admissable.

    For most of the interview, petitioner answered the officer’s questions. But when asked whether his shotgun “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder,” App. 17, petitioner declined to answer. Instead, petitioner “[l]ooked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, cl[e]nched his hands in his lap, [and] began to tighten up.” Id., at 18. After a few moments of silence, the officer asked additional questions, which petitioner answered. Ibid.

    Determining what those gestures and movements mean would be up to a jury or court.

  2. Vince Giglio

    Since the burden of proof is on the government to determine if a suspect is guilty or not guilty of a crime based on evidence, the people’s rights should be protected against the possible government manipulation of the judicial system. The question becomes who should protect the rights of the people? Should it be the responsibility of the government or the individual? If people have rights and governments are instituted to protect our rights (Declaration of Independence) then it should be the government’s duty to inform us of our rights thus protecting those rights by lawful execution of power.

  3. Vince Giglio

    The argument can be made that the government’s power is to protect our ability to exercise our rights. The choice is always ours. It is our choice to know our rights or to be foolish and be ignorant of them. Also, it would be at our discretion to use our rights as we se fit or not use them at all. This would be self-government. The responsibilities of self-government can’t be on the government if it is to be an impartial arbiter.

  4. Joe

    The policeman never asked Jesse how he knew that Vince was killed with an axe, he just assumed that there was no possible way that Jesse could have known. Although I don’t see a problem with the Miranda decision, it’s flimsy evidence based on a rush to judgement. Throw it out.

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