U.S. Supreme Court

High Court to Decide if Suspect Invoked Miranda by ‘Persistent Silence’

Did an inmate’s “persistent silence” for nearly three hours of police questioning indicate he was refusing to waive his Miranda rights?

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide the question yesterday in a case that will clarify when police officers may question suspects who say they understand their rights but don’t affirmatively invoke them, the Associated Press reports.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Van Chester Thompkins’ near silence in response to police questioning about a murder showed he was invoking his rights, the story says. Thompkins said little until an officer asked whether he prayed for forgiveness for “shooting that boy down.” Thompkins responded, “Yes.”

The 6th Circuit said Thompkins’ confession should be thrown out because his silence indicated he was not waiving his right to remain silent. The petition for certiorari (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog) claims the 6th Circuit improperly expanded the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona decision.

“Thompkins was read his rights, he understood them, and he never invoked them,” the cert petition says. “A waiver of Miranda rights need not be explicit.” The case is Berghuis v. Thompkins.

A second Miranda case already on the docket asks whether suspects have to be told they have the right to have a lawyer present during police questioning.

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