• Supreme Court Rules Detainees Must Affirmatively Invoke Miranda Right to Remain Silent
  • June 17, 2010 | Authors: Daniel S. Roberts; G. Ross Trindle
  • Law Firms: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Ontario Office ; Best Best & Krieger LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • On June 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that detainees must affirmatively invoke the Miranda right to remain silent. Without a clear, unambiguous and unequivocal invocation of the right, police questioning does not have to end and any statements made can be used against the suspect at trial. Simply remaining silent does not constitute the invocation required for Miranda protections to be triggered.
    In Berghuis v. Thompkins, after advising Thompkins of his rights, a police detective and another officer interrogated him about a shooting in which one victim died. At no point did Thompkins say that he wanted to remain silent, that he did not want to talk with the police, or that he wanted an attorney. He was largely silent during the three-hour interrogation, but near the end he answered “yes” when asked if he prayed to God to forgive him for the shooting. These statements were used against him at trial and he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. Thompkins moved to suppress his statements, claiming that he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, that he had not waived that right, and that his statements were involuntary. The trial court denied the motion and the Court of Appeals in Michigan affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Federal District Court denied Thompkins’ habeas corpus request, finding that the state courts had not acted unreasonably in finding that he had waived his right to remain silent. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts’ rulings.
    On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Thompkins had not invoked his Miranda rights. Reaffirming prior court holdings regarding invocation of the right to counsel, the Court found that a suspect’s Miranda rights must be “unambiguously” invoked and that if a detainee makes an “ambiguous or equivocal” statement, or no statement at all, then police are not required to cease questioning. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy noted: “The Court has not yet stated whether an invocation of the right to remain silent can be ambiguous or equivocal, but there is no principled reason to adopt different standards for determining when an accused has invoked the Miranda right to remain silent and the Miranda right to counsel at issue in Davis.”

    In its decision, the Supreme Court has balanced the rights of suspects via the landmark Miranda ruling with the practical aspects of law enforcement. Peace officers should not have to guess, whether an educated guess or otherwise, as to the intentions of the suspect. Instead, suspects must make an affirmative, clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal invocation of the right to remain silent. Without that, peace officers are permitted to continue with questioning and investigation of the suspected crime.