In a stunning legal upheaval, the U.S. Supreme Court has removed one of the mainstay protections of the Miranda v. Arizona rule for citizens of the United States. Last June the U.S. Supreme Court stripped Miranda’s 44-year-long standing rule that legally permitted a suspect being questioned to count on his silence as a sign of the invocation of Miranda. No longer is being silent in the wake of interrogation an invocation of Miranda.
Van Thompkins was arrested as a suspect in a shooting of two men outside a Southfield, Michigan shopping center. At the beginning of the interrogation, Southfield Police Detective Helgert presented Thompkins with a form card that stated, “Notification of Constitutional Rights and Statement.”
The Fifth Warning
The card contained in detail the Miranda advisements. Helgert then asked Thompkins to read the fifth warning out loud to ensure that Thompkins understood his rights. Miranda’s fifth warning states: “You have the right to decide at any time before or during questioning to use your right to remain silent and your right to talk with your lawyer while you are being questioned.”
Afterward, Helgert read the other four Miranda warnings out loud and asked Thompkins to sign a form demonstrating that he understood what Helgert had read. Thompkins declined to sign the form. Two hours and 45 minutes into his interrogation Detective Helgert asked Thompkins if he had prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting. Thompkins said, “Yes.”
Based on that response, Thompkins was prosecuted and convicted for murder. Thompkins lawyers argued that the statement violated their client’s right against self-incrimination. The conviction was overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court and lower federal courts, but was upheld by the 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court.
He Didn’t Waive Them
According to Miranda, a suspect’s statements to the police can be used only if the suspect knowingly and intelligently waived his rights to remain silent. Thompkins did not do that, and a federal appellate court ruled in his favor, throwing out his conviction.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 vote majority ruling that said: “Had Thompkins wanted to remain silent or had he not wanted to talk he would have invoked his right to end questioning. He did neither.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor wrote: “There is conflicting evidence in the record about whether Thompkins ever verbally confirmed understanding his rights.”