Alabama Criminal News: Supreme Court Puts Time Limit on Miranda’s “Right to Remain Silent”

Tags: Criminal Defense

The United States Supreme Court recently decided that the well-known Miranda right pertaining to “remaining silent” has an expiration date. This could have wide-ranging effects on individuals arrested for crimes in cities like Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville and other smaller towns around Alabama. As a Birmingham criminal attorney, my first concern is to provide an aggressive defense to my clients.

With this latest Supreme Court ruling, a suspect in a criminal case could theoretically be questioned two weeks following his initial Miranda reading and actually not have the protection normally expected of that law. In fact, the Supreme Court has said that a suspect who invokes his “right to remain silent” under Miranda can be questioned again after 14 days if he agrees to talk to law enforcement authorities of his own free will, he could unintentionally incriminate himself, allowing prosecutors to essentially use those more recent statements against him in a court of law.

According to reports, the 9-to-0 Supreme Court decision over a child abuse caseessentially overturned a nearly 30-year-old rule that has barred the police from questioning a suspect once he had asked to remain silent and to speak with a lawyer.

The “Edwards rule” as it is also known was initially created in 1981 to prevent investigators from harassing suspects who are held in jail following their invocation of their Miranda rights. Prior to the inclusion of this rule, it was not uncommon for police to awaken a suspect in the middle of the night and ask him again to waive his rights and to admit to a crime.

More recently, this rule has been understood to preclude the police from re-questioning a freed suspect, even for other crimes in other places. As part of their ruling, Supreme Court justices stated that although the rule made sense for suspects who were held in jail, it did not make sense for suspects who had gone free.

“In a country that harbors a large number of repeat offenders, the consequence [of this no-further-questioning rule] is disastrous,” Justice Antonin Scalia said, adding, “If there has been a “break in custody” and the suspect has gone free, the police should be allowed to speak with him after some period of time.

According to court records, the Court settled on 14 days because it “provides plenty of time for the suspect to get reacclimated to his normal life [and] to consult with friends and counsel.”

As a result of this ruling, the high court overturned a lower court decision, essentially saying that the incriminating statements made by the defendant in the child abuse case — weeks after the original Miranda reading — could be used to convict him. It’s important to note that while all nine justices agreed on the outcome, two did not agree with the 14-day rule — Justice John Paul Stevens said that time period was too short, and Justice Clarence Thomas said it was too long.

Supreme Court puts expiration date on ‘right to remain silent’,, February 25, 2010

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