Three years after the Supreme Court affirmed the Miranda rule, the requirement that police must warn crime suspects of their right to remain silent is in danger of being effectively repealed, the Los Angeles Times says. This week, the justices are scheduled to hear cases from Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska that will determine if there is a penalty when police fail to warn suspects of their rights before questioning them. “For all practical purposes, Miranda will be a dead letter” if the justices side with police and prosecutors in all three cases, said Stephen Schulhofer of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.
None of the cases asks the court to directly overrule Miranda vs. Arizona, the 1966 case that established the now-familiar warnings. The new cases pose a different question: What happens if the police deliberately or inadvertently do not warn suspects of their before questioning? If there is no penalty for violating the Miranda rights, police may not follow them.
One of this week’s cases tests whether a violation of Miranda requires courts to exclude evidence against criminal defendants. Patrice Seibert, a Missouri mother, was convicted of conspiring to have her mentally disturbed teen son die in a fire. She was awakened at 3 a.m. outside a hospital room where a third son was recovering from burns suffered in the blaze. A St. Louis County police officer took her into custody for questioning and did not give her Miranda warnings. After obtaining incriminating information, the officer got Seibert to repeat it after giving the warnings. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed her conviction because of the “end run” around Miranda.
Another case tests whether police and prosecutors may use evidence like a gun or drugs, despite a Miranda violation. The case involves Samuel Patane, who had been arrested for threatening an ex-girlfriend in Colorado and was ordered not to contact her. Shortly after he was released, Patane began calling his former girlfriend. When police came to his apartment and began to give the Miranda statement, he cut them off, later saying a gun was in his bedroom. A court said the evidence should be inadmissible.
In the third case, Lincoln, Neb., officers went to arrest John Fellers after he was indicted on charges of drug dealing. Without giving Fellers Miranda warnings or consulting his lawyer, the officers asked him about the people named in the indictment. Fellers said he had used drugs with them. The U.S. Justice Department says such voluntary statements to police should not be suppressed.
The Times say legal experts cannot easily forecast the cases’ outcomes because the justices have dealt little with practical aspects of police questioning.