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A Major Pruning of Miranda

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Today, the United States Supreme Court pruned back the artificial rule it created in Miranda v. Arizona in 1966. The decision in Berghuis v. Thompkins moves the Constitution back in the direction of what it really says, that no person "shall be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case," and away from artificial rules created by the Court.

The Miranda rule remains intact in that the police must warn suspects of their rights and that an invocation of those rights by the suspect requires the police to stop questioning. Today's decision involves what is needed to establish whether a suspect invoked or waived his rights.

To invoke the right to remain silent such that the police must stop, the suspect must say so expressly and unambiguously. On the other hand, a waiver of rights may be inferred from the facts that the suspect received the warnings, understood his rights, and responded to questions anyway.

The rule really in the Constitution, forbidding compelled statements, remains in force, of course. Today's decision places limits on an entirely artificial rule grafted onto the Constitution by the Supreme Court. It is entirely appropriate that artificial rules be strictly limited, if they are not to be abandoned altogether.

The split was 5-4, majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, dissent by Justice Sotomayor.

Although this case is governed by the deferential standard of AEDPA (28 U.S.C. ยง2254(d)), the Court chose to decide the issues on the merits. That is consistent with the statute, since a correct decision is necessarily reasonable, but Justice Sotomayor criticized the majority for going further than needed to decide the case before it. True, but it is kind of odd to make that criticism in a Miranda case, as Miranda itself is the exemplar of going further than necessary to decide the case.

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Another win for Michigan SG Eric Restuccia (3 for 3 for Eric and his crew just this term!).

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