It matters to the average citizen. Good law brings the right results. Bad law brings bad results.
Todd Spangler of the Washington Staff of the Detroit Free Press in Supreme Court reins in Miranda rules in case from Southfield summarizes a recent 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins which holds that informing a suspect of his Miranda rights does not immunize him from the consequences of his actions if he does talk.
The whole concept of Miranda warnings is that suspects can not be forced to talk and that they have the right to be informed of this right, which WAS done in the instant case. The issuance of Miranda warnings does not, however, mean that law enforcement officials can not further interrogate suspects in the course of their duties. There have to be sensible limits on the rights afforded to criminals and a balance found for the rights of society.
As written by Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog:
"By a 5-4 vote, the Court for the first time made two things clear about Miranda rights: first, if a suspect does not want to talk to police — that is, to invoke a right to silence — he must say so, with a clear statement because it is not enough to sit silently or to remain uncooperative, even through a long session; and, second, if the suspect finally answers a suggestive question with a one-word response that amounts to a confession, that, by itself, will be understood as a waiver of the right to silence and the statement can be used as evidence. Police need not obtain an explicit waiver of that right. The net practical effect is likely to be that police, in the face of a suspect’s continued silence after being given Miranda warnings, can continue to question him, even for a couple of hours, in hopes eventually of getting him to confess."There is nothing wrong with that -- as police try to bring a murderer to justice. The balance of rights is thereby not adversely affected, quite the contrary, that balance is improved. Essentially, the suspect was outsmarted by the police officers doing the questioning, and that is a desired result. The police gave the suspect the opportunity to confess to his crime in the face of the Almighty, and he did.
Once again, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, was the swing vote on the Court and the nation can rejoice to have such a smart, practical man in this particular position of power.
As Kennedy writes in the majority opinion:
"About 2 hours and 45 minutes into the interrogation, Helgert asked Thompkins, “Do you believe in God?” Id., at 11a, 153a. Thompkins made eye contact with Helgert and said “Yes,” as his eyes “well[ed] up with tears.” Id., at 11a. Helgert asked, “Do you pray to God?” Thompkins said “Yes.” Id., at 11a, 153a. Helgert asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” Id., at 153a. Thompkins answered “Yes” and looked away. Ibid. Thompkins refused to make a written confession, and the interrogation ended about 15 minutes later. Id., at 11a."Miranda should not prohibit that oral confession. As it is, the Miranda decisions still give far more rights to criminals than they should.
Law-abiding citizens in communities across the nation ALSO have rights to be protected and the ability to get dangerous criminals off the streets is one of those rights. We all have an interest that police officials have essential tools of fact-finding available to them. The law can not be that a murder suspect freely says that he "did it" and that he goes free BECAUSE his Miranda rights WERE previously made known to him. The four Justices in the minority have simply misunderstood their own Court's Miranda standard and have misinterpreted the U.S. Constitution which states only that people can not be forced to testify against themselves. That Constitutional provision does not mean that people are immunized from their own statements or that police can not try to outsmart suspected criminals by their questioning.
As for Justice Sotomayor's dissent, one can only hope that in the course of her sojourn on the Court that she develops the ability to remove herself from her own ethnicity and not put herself into the position of the generic "poor" minority suspect allegedly being coerced by evil police, as she obviously does in her dissent. The standard that Sotomayor would have the Supreme Court adopt is that the suspect must come out and say AT THE LEAST, preferably in writing, "If I confess to the crime, I mean it, and I am hereby waiving my right to keep silent. Honest. Truly. No lie. You can believe me. This is it. The real thing." This takes Miranda to an absurd extreme. Sotomayor must in the future try to confront the REAL world in which criminals use every method possible to evade responsibility for their crimes, and, in that knowledge, should interpret the U.S. Constitution in a sensible way so that murderers do not roam the nation's streets.
As for the legal standard involved, there is a difference between "coercion" and "friendly persuasion".
Besides, the mere fact of arrest is already a substantial coercion. If you stand under arrest, you are already "coerced". What the 5th Amendment says is that we can not beat people under arrest over the head to make them confess to crimes, even if they committed them, as is the case in 99% of criminal prosecutions. Everyone understands that standard. Everything beyond that is NOT required by the 5th Amendment, regardless of what Sotomayor has written, who is trying to defend an overreaching Miranda standard that is badly in need of reform.
The great overreach of Miranda is in part accounted for by the Rehnquist Court and the late Chief Justice Rehnquist, who, as Jeffrey Rosen writes at The Atlantic in Rehnquist the Great?, was apparently a great administrator, but, in our opinion, not a very good judge, shifting his early highly contrary position on Miranda to a later position of defeatist appeasement, a sign of a weak character, described by some as a "passive" nature. He was hardly a man to set the U.S. Supreme Court and the country on the right track, nor did he do so, leaving a mountain of unfinished business which the Roberts Court is also not dispatching yet with the definiteness that it should. Much needs to be corrected, and the decision in Berghuis v. Thompkins is one of those corrections. Mollycoddling of criminals must end. You have to weed the garden.