The Supreme Court's Love-Hate Relationship with Miranda
82 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2010 Last revised: 21 Nov 2010
Date Written: August 27, 2010
In recent years, the Supreme Court has enjoyed a love-hate relationship with its landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona. While the Court has not hesitated to narrow Miranda’s reach, it has also been wary of deliberate efforts to circumvent it. This pragmatic approach to Miranda can be doctrinally unsatisfying and even incoherent at times, but it basically maintains the core structure of Miranda as the police have come to know and adapt to it.
Last Term provided the first glimpse of the Roberts Court’s views on Miranda, as the Court considered three Miranda cases: Maryland v. Shatzer, Florida v. Powell, and Berghuis v. Thompkins. This Article examines each opinion through a pragmatic lens, with an eye towards ascertaining whether the Roberts Court remains committed to the pragmatic approach taken by its predecessors. While the government prevailed on every issue raised by the three cases, the opinions vary in their fidelity to pragmatic norms.
The Article concludes that, even if Shatzer and Powell can be dismissed as effecting only incremental changes in the law – in the rules protecting those who invoke their Miranda rights, defining custody, and requiring that the warnings reasonably convey each of the rights Miranda guarantees – Thompkins cannot be defended on pragmatic grounds. In effect, the decision in Thompkins allows the police to begin interrogating a suspect immediately after reading the Miranda warnings, without first securing a waiver of the suspect’s Miranda rights, and then to use anything she says – even hours later – to demonstrate that she impliedly waived her rights. Thompkins thus essentially reduces Miranda to a mere formality, requiring that warnings be read and otherwise leaving criminal defendants with the same voluntariness due process test that Miranda was designed to replace. To the extent Thompkins signals a change in the Court’s attitude towards Miranda, it comes at a particularly critical time given reports that the Obama administration is considering proposing an exception to Miranda for terrorism suspects.
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