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Chavez v. Martinez, Excerpt from Book Chapter, 'We Dissent: Talking Back to the Rehnquist Court'


TJSL Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1140366

9 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2008 Last revised: 9 Jul 2008

Marjorie Cohn

Thomas Jefferson School of Law


The lawyers and legal commentators who contribute to We Dissent unanimously agree that during Chief Justice William Rehnquist's nineteen-year tenure, the Supreme Court failed to adequately protect civil liberties and civil rights. This is evident in majority opinions written for numerous cases heard by Rehnquist Court, and eight of those cases are re-examined here, with contributors offering dissents to the Court's decisions.

The Supreme Court opinions criticized in We Dissent suggest that the Rehnquist Court placed the interests of government above the people, and as the dissents in this book demonstrate, the Court strayed far from our constitutional ideals when it abandoned its commitment to the protection of the individual rights of Americans. Each chapter focuses on a different case, with contributors summarizing the case and the decision, and then offering their own dissent to the majority opinion.

This chapter offers Professor Cohn's dissent from Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003), in which the Court was confronted with the question whether the coercive police interrogation of a critically wounded man, in a hospital emergency room, violated the Constitution. Oliverio Martinez claimed that such questioning by Sergeant Ben Chavez violated his right to remain silent and to avoid self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment and his right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite the fact that Martinez was not given his Miranda warnings before or during the questioning, and that he was screaming in pain while lapsing in and out of consciousness during the interrogation, the Court held Martinez's Fifth Amendment rights had not been violated.

Chavez was important, in part, because it gave the Court an opportunity to hold that the Constitution requires that treaties to which the United States is a party must be enforced in our domestic courts. For several years, interest in international law principles, particularly in the area of human rights, has been increasing. Recently, some Supreme Court Justices have referred to international law in their opinions, although that has provoked some controversy in conservative quarters. The Court could have seized the opportunity Chavez presented to make a clear ruling enforcing the treaties applicable to the case. Unfortunately, the Court failed to address this question in its decision. This omission was particularly grievous given the significance of torture issues in connection with the so-called War on Terror.

Keywords: torture, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, cruel and unusual punishment, Fifth Amendment, self-incrimination, due process, coercive interrogation, Miranda warnings, Eighth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, international human rights

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Cohn, Marjorie, Chavez v. Martinez, Excerpt from Book Chapter, 'We Dissent: Talking Back to the Rehnquist Court'. WE DISSENT: TALKING BACK TO THE REHNQUIST COURT, New York University Press, 2008; TJSL Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1140366. Available at SSRN:

Marjorie Cohn (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

1155 Island Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-961-4219 (Phone)

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