The Supreme Court narrowed the “Miranda” right against self-incrimination, ruling yesterday that police can force an unwilling person to talk if those admissions are not used to prosecute them, says the Los Angeles Times.
The 6-3 opinion undercuts the Miranda warnings, in which officers tell individuals of their right to remain silent. It appears to allow more aggressive questioning of reluctant witnesses in the hope of obtaining evidence. While a person’s words cannot be used against him or her in court, evidence can be.
The decision throws out part of a lawsuit brought on behalf of a gravely wounded farm worker in Oxnard, Ca., who was questioned in a hospital emergency room by a police supervisor. The officers who shot Oliverio Martinez in the face and back can be sued for using excessive force, the court said. But the justices ruled that the police supervisor who repeatedly questioned Martinez did not violate his 5th Amendment rights in doing so.
Civil libertarians worried that the decision signals a retreat from the Miranda rulings of the past. The court has agreed to hear three Miranda cases in the fall, one testing whether police can deliberately violate the right to remain silent.
Law Prof. Charles Weisselberg of the University of California at Berkeley, said that “Miranda has become … a rule of evidence, but not a constitutional right. I fear that means it will have less respect from police, judges and the criminal justice system.”
Police advocates pplauded the ruling. “This is a good win for the law enforcement community,” said Charles L. Hobson of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento. “It will be the rare case where an officer is ever held liable for questioning. This shows that Miranda is just about excluding evidence at a trial,” he said, not about setting constitutional rules for questioning.