Silence Speaks Volumes
The Supreme Court made another outrageous conclusion. Essentially, the high court now says that an individual does not have the right to remain silent until he or she specifically says that they want to exercise their right to remain silent.
I must’ve heard the Miranda rights a thousand times. You couldn’t watch shows like Hill Street Blues and Police Story without hearing them. The first sentence of the Miranda verbiage pretty much said it all. You have the right to remain silent. In that sentence, it is my understanding that my right to remain silent is one of those inalienable entitlements that cannot be taken away from me. The statement doesn’t say that I have the right to claim my right to remain silent. The right to remain silent is mine whether I ask for it or not.
But in a five to four split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to silence does not have to be recognized by law enforcement until a person who is being questioned by police specifically claims that right. In fact, the Supreme Court now says that the police are no longer required to read a suspect his or her Miranda rights. This decision reverses more than four decades of police reading Miranda rights to suspects in an effort to protect people from self incrimination.
I remember a piece of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. Lieutenant Al Giardello, played by Yaphet Kotto, and Detective Frank Pembleton, played by Andre Braugher, was arguing over a suspect accused of murder. The lieutenant wanted a conviction and was putting pressure on the detective to do his job and put the suspect away, a young black male from the inner city. The detective was trying to explain that they had the wrong suspect. The lieutenant didn’t care. The murder was high profile and people were out for blood. They needed a conviction.
Frustrated, the detective threw up his ands and went into the interrogation room where the suspect waited. The detective started off smooth. He gained the suspects trust. But instead of focusing on the case at hand, he started talking about things generally. He was guilty of not staying in school and disappointing his family. He knew about problems in the neighborhood and did nothing to help. Eventually, what started off as smoothness evolved into anger. The detective told the young man in the seat that by his inaction to help the community, he was just as guilty as the true murderer. The young man, a boy really, was in tears by the time it was over. He signed a confession to the murder.
For the convenience of a television episode the whole process took just a few minutes. It was the amount of time from one set of commercial breaks to the other. But he had the confession and he presented it to the lieutenant. The lieutenant saw the whole ordeal behind the one way mirror that covered one wall that has become a police station interrogation room staple. He tore up the confession and backed off of his detective.
Now I imagine it takes a little more than a few minutes to convince somebody to sign a confession to murder. In fact, the recent case that brought the issue of Miranda before the Supreme Court was from a confession that took about three hours to pull out. For three hours Van Chester Thompkins, the major suspect in a murder investigation, remained silent as police interrogated him. It wasn’t until some clever police officer asked him if he prayed to god for forgiveness for shooting the victim when the suspect broke his silence and answered yes. That was all people needed. After three hours they had their confession. The confession led to a conviction. The suspect was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole.
First, I have a serious problem with criminals. People who go around committing crimes against society don’t deserve the benefit of understanding from society. But as a society, we are more civil and more compassionate when we go out of our way to treat even the lowest among us with respect for their rights as a person. Our police are not entitled to break out laws on our behalf simply because they need a conviction. If the police have a suspect in custody then they should proceed with their investigation according to law. And when the law says that a suspect has the right to remain silent, the police need to honor that right.
In order to give police the incentive to follow the law, the law says that evidence obtained unlawfully will be thrown out of a court. That way, as a collective we keep our civility and our compassion and even our desire to adhere to law. Otherwise, what’s the alternative?
I don’t have to say that I’m not going to speak to you in order for you to understand that I’m not going to speak to you. Silence speaks volumes. Contrary to what some people might believe, police aren’t stupid. They can tell when somebody is invoking their right to remain silent. It doesn’t take three hours to figure that out. But then again, maybe they can’t figure it out and that’s why they spend so much time coercing confessions instead of doing honest work to solve crimes.
But as despicable as the police can be these days, they have found an even shadier collaborator to their underhanded methodologies. The Supreme Court is truly becoming a tarnished institution. This is the same court that said even when you do invoke your right to remain silent, the police have the right to come back and ask questions after two weeks. It appears that our inalienable right to remain silent only last a couple weeks after we explicitly invoke it.