You have the right to remain silent, now speak up!

A new law requires arrestees to actually speak up to invoke their right to remain silent, rather than staying inaudible, as was done in the past. Audrey Moore/UVU Review
A new law requires arrestees to actually speak up to invoke their right to remain silent, rather than staying inaudible, as was done in the past. Audrey Moore/UVU Review

A recent Supreme Court decision will affect arrests and their implications throughout the United States. The ruling specifies that suspects must now vocally invoke the right to remain silent. It had been previously held that remaining silent indicated that the right or privilege was being used.

The ruling, which passed with a 5-4 vote, was delivered June 1 in the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins.
The decision in Berghuis clarifies the original decision found by the Court in the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona case. In Miranda, the Court found in the majority opinion that the person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he or she has the right to remain silent. Many favor the finding by the Supreme Court.

“I do favor the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding a verbal response to the Miranda admonition” says John Brewer, Director of Public Safety at Utah Valley University. “This ruling takes the ambiguity out the situation where a person remains silent. Such clarification is welcome in my experience and opinion.”

Not everyone, however, thinks speaking to invoke the right of silence is needed.

“I think a right is something that is a constant, or a given,” says Alison Poulsen-Nef, a Paralegal Studies student at UVU. “I shouldn’t have to say I invoke my civil rights if someone is not treating me fairly. The right to remain silent should be the same way; it’s a right. You don’t have to do anything to get it because it’s just a given.”

The Berghuis decision stems from a case originally heard in Michigan. The appellant, Van Chester Thompkins, was a suspect accused of a fatal shooting in Southfield, Michigan. Thompkins had not answered questions in the three hours of interrogation following his arrest, other than to answer that he had prayed to God for forgiveness for the shooting when asked that specific question at the end of his interrogation.

Thompkins was convicted by a trial court. He then appealed the decision in the Michigan Supreme Court, filing a motion that claimed he had invoked the right to remain silent and that right had been violated. The motion was denied, ultimately leading to the case reaching the Supreme Court.

The majority decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was joined by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that the case was a “substantial retreat from the protection against compelled self-incrimination.”

The full text of the opinions can be found at http://www.SupremeCourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1470.pdf

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