The big surprise to this decision is that it came down to a 5-4 split, with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the deciding vote. The Supreme Court overturned a ruling from the appeals court that threw out a confession and a conviction in a murder case where the suspect provided monosyllabic answers to questions for three hours before finally admitting guilt, but did not explicitly invoke his right to remain silent. The court’s decision equates that invocation with the right to an attorney, which must be explicitly demanded:
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that suspects must explicitly tell police they want to be silent to invoke Miranda protections during criminal interrogations, a decision one dissenting justice said turns defendants’ rights “upside down.”
A right to remain silent and a right to a lawyer are the first of the Miranda rights warnings, which police recite to suspects during arrests and interrogations. But the justices said in a 5-4 decision that suspects must tell police they are going to remain silent to stop an interrogation, just as they must tell police that they want a lawyer. …
The officers in the room said Thompkins said little during the interrogation, occasionally answering “yes,” “no,” “I don’t know,” nodding his head and making eye contact as his responses. But when one of the officers asked him if he prayed for forgiveness for “shooting that boy down,” Thompkins said, “Yes.”
He was convicted, but on appeal he wanted that statement thrown out because he said he invoked his Miranda rights by being uncommunicative with the interrogating officers.
The Cincinnati-based appeals court agreed and threw out his confession and conviction. The high court reversed that decision. The case is Berghuis v. Thompkins, 08-1470.
Nothing in the Constitution guarantees that police have to read minds.