Key Supreme Court justices hinted yesterday that they will agree with federal government arguments that police officers should have more freedom to question suspects without first warning them of their right to remain silent under the court’s famous Miranda case, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Miranda does not require officers to give the warnings,” said Chief Justice William Rehnquist. “It is a conditional thing.”
If an officer warns a suspect of his rights, and the suspect talks, his words may be used against him in court. A failure to give the warning does not mean that all the evidence must be thrown out, he added.
Under the approach suggested by prosecutors, police could question suspects without warning them of their rights. If the suspect confessed, the officer could read the warning and ask that the confession be repeated.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor said they saw no problem with the police questioning suspects, so long as force and pressure were not used. “What’s wrong with it if the primary purpose [of Miranda] is to prevent brow-beating?” Scalia asked.
Amy Bartholow, a Missouri public defender, said police engaged in “deliberate” and “systematic” violations of Miranda by interrogating defendants before warning them of their rights. “So what, if it is not coerced?” Kennedy asked. O’Connor noted that lower courts have allowed the use of evidence police find by questioning suspects without warning them of their rights. “It hasn’t resulted in disaster,” she said.
The more liberal justices said that in practice, the Miranda decision would become meaningless if there were no penalty for violating it. “Is there any reason for a police department not to adopt a policy that says, ‘Never give the Miranda warnings until the suspect confesses?’ ” asked Justice John Paul Stevens. “There would be nothing to lose.”