UNITED STATES: Right to remain silent undermined



"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law" — this advice, known as the Miranda warning, may no longer have to be given in all situations, the US Supreme Court ruled on May 27.

Introduced as a civil rights measure in 1966, the Miranda warning may be the latest civil right to fall by the wayside.

Ernesto Miranda was a poor Mexican immigrant detained in 1963 for a kidnapping. He denied that he was guilty of the offence, but after two hours of "questioning" by police, he signed a confession. Miranda's lawyers appealed on the grounds that Miranda did not know he was protected from self-incrimination. The Supreme Court ruled that if a person was not informed of his or her rights, then any subsequent confession was inadmissible.

How times have changed. In 1997, Oliverio Martinez had been shot in the face and back and was paralysed and blind. A police officer screamed questions at him as he lay on his hospital bed. He had not been given a Miranda warning.

The Supreme Court ruled that the right to remain silent doesn't apply when authorities interrogate someone they are not prosecuting. Answers obtained through coercive questioning of such a person could be used by police against others; the questioned person could even be compelled to give evidence in criminal proceedings. It would not be possible for him to "plead the fifth amendment".

A summary of the case can be found at <http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/01-1444.ZS.html>.

From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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