Court Upholds Miranda Warnings

Monday, June 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Police still must warn criminal suspects of their ``right to remain silent'' when questioned, the Supreme Court said Monday in a ruling that gave new constitutional luster to its landmark Miranda decision of 1966.

The new 7-2 ruling said police are required to give the warnings made familiar to generations of Americans by movies and television or else risk getting suspects' confessions excluded as evidence against them.

``Miranda announced a constitutional rule that Congress may not supersede legislatively,'' Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court.

``We decline to overrule Miranda ourselves,'' he added.

The court, far more liberal 34 years ago than it is today, sought to remedy ``inherently cocercive'' interrogations by creating bright-line guidelines in its Miranda vs. Arizona decision. Courts previously had used a ``totality-of-the-circumstances'' test to determine whether a confession or incriminating statement had been given to police voluntarily.

The Constitution's Fifth Amendment says, ``No person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.''

The Miranda decision said police must warn suspects about to be questioned that anything they say may be used against them, they can remain silent or have a lawyer's help while answering, and that a lawyer will be appointed to help them if they cannot afford to hire one.

A federal appeals court last year threw the future of those warnings into doubt, ruling that Congress in effect overturned the Miranda decision by enacting a long-ignored 1968 law known as Section 3501.

That law purports to return the law, at least in federal cases, to pre-Miranda days. It says ``the presence or absence'' of any factor such as a Miranda warning ``need not be conclusive on the issue of voluntariness.''

The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the warnings imposed on police by the Miranda decision were never constitutionally mandated.

On Monday, the Supreme Court said the appeals court was wrong.

``First and foremost'' among factors pointing to the Miranda decision being based on the Constitution, Rehnquist said, ``is that both Miranda and two of its companion cases applied the rule to proceedings in state courts.''

He noted that federal courts hold no supervisory power over state court proceedings except to ``correct wrongs of constitutional dimension.''

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Writing for the two, Scalia said Monday's decision ``converts Miranda from a milestone of overreaching'' into one of ``judicial arrogance.''

The 4th Circuit court invoked the 1968 law in the case of a Maryland man accused of robbing banks in Maryland and Virginia.

Charles Dickerson of Takoma Park, Md., reportedly made several incriminating statements to FBI agents after being arrested and charged with seven bank robberies. He says the agents did not give him a proper Miranda warning, a claim that was not challenged in lower courts.

Neither he nor the federal prosecutors who had opposed his appeal to the 4th Circuit court focused on Section 3501. But that court allowed Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and a prolific critic of the Miranda decision, to argue as a friend of the court that the 1968 law means Dickerson's statements could be used against him.

When Dickerson's appeal got to the Supreme Court, the Clinton administration refused to defend Section 3501. Justice Department lawyers argued that the Miranda decision ``is of constitutional dimension'' and ``cannot be superseded merely by legislation'' enacted by Congress.

It fell to Cassell to defend the federal law when the case was argued before the justices in April.