20 September 2010

"You have a right to remain silent..."

In the recent case of Berghuis v. Thompkins [560 U.S.____(2010) (docket 08-1470)] the U.S. Supreme Court ruled five to four that persons being interviewed by the police are required to articulate their answers to the Miranda warning that they have the right to remain silent. The case originated when Van Chester Thompkins was being questioned about a shooting in which one person was killed. Instead of invoking his Miranda right to remain silent, Thompkins simply remained silent, which is what the warning seemed to be allowing him to do. In fact, he remained silent through two hours and forty-five minutes of questioning, at which point the detective asked him if he believed in God and prayed, to which Thompkins spoke for the first time, saying "yes." The detective then asked him, "Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting the boy down?" Thompkins again answered "yes," but refused to produce a written statement...

In short, by being silent during the interrogation Thompkins did not invoke his right to remain silent, but he waived his right when he said "yes" to the detective's questions about religion. Kennedy added that the accused are required to talk in order to indicate their unwillingness to talk...
More at Language Log.


  1. Only with a conservative court...

  2. It makes more sense when you realize that the "right" in question is not the right to remain silent, but actually the right to not be questioned further.

    In truth, the suspect was allowed to remain silent and only spoke of his own volition. If he wished not to be question, he could have positively indicated that he wished to remain silent.

  3. I don't understand the controversy. You have a fundamental right to remain silent. If the police have enough evidence to arrest and charge you, they will surely question the heck out of you. Only if you remain silent will they fail to extract any information from you.

    You have no similar right to be left alone. Only if the police cannot charge you must they release you.

    It is NEVER in your best interest to speak to the police (edited to add:) when you are a suspect in an investigation. Period.

  4. @Nathan- Even if you have something to say that can remove suspicion from you?
    I hate how so many people react in a way that says 'police are the bad guys'. Yes, sometimes corruption happens, but on the whole, they're there to protect us from the 'bad guys'. If you aren't actually guilty, keeping silent is a good way to impede the investigation. That doesn't help anyone but the guilty person(s).

  5. *if you aren't actually guilty and can prove it.

  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

  7. http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-you-shouldnt-talk-to-police.html


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