Archive | June, 2013

The Further Erosion of Your Rights

18 Jun

Supreme Court overturns rule on right to counsel


Ed Brayton
Science Blogs

The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a landmark 1986 ruling that forbid the police from questioning suspects without their attorney present. The 1986 case, Michigan v Jackson, was overturned on Tuesday in a 5-4 ruling (PDF) in a similar case, Montejo v Louisiana.

As I reported last month, the Obama administration had sided with the state of Louisiana in that case and argued for overturning the prior case.

Michigan v Jackson established the rule that if someone accused of a crime has an attorney or has requested the appointment of an attorney by the court, police may not question them without that attorney being present even if the accused agrees to waive the right to have their attorney present during that particular session of questioning. Under Jackson, any waiver of that right was presumed to be invalid because it was not made with the advice of counsel.

Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Thomas and Kennedy, said “the marginal benefits of Jackson (viz., the number of confessions obtained coercively that are suppressed by its bright-line rule and would otherwise have been admitted) are dwarfed by its substantial costs (viz., hindering “society’s compelling interest in finding, convicting, and punishing those who violate the law.”

This provoked an angry response from the dissenting justices, led by Justice Stevens, who took the unusual step of reading his dissenting opinion aloud from the bench. The majority, he wrote, “flagrantly misrepresents” the issues of the case and has “overrule[d] Jackson to correct a ‘theoretical and doctrinal’ problem of its own imagining.” Such tough language is usually aimed by Justice Scalia, not at him.

A group of 19 former judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, including prominent conservatives like former FBI Director William Sessions and former Bush administration Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, filed an amicus brief (PDF) arguing strongly against overturning Jackson.

Their brief argues that the Jackson ruling “provides an easily enforceable rule governing post-arraignment custodial interrogations,” that the “simplicity and clarity of the rule facilitate[s] the training of police officers” and “provides judges a straightforward, objective standard to determine whether those confessions are admissible.”

“Absent such a clear test,” they argue, “law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and trial judges will have to start anew in developing a common law from particularized decisions reflecting inherently subjective assessments of the tactics as well as the intent of investigators, the timing as well as the content of interrogations, and the understanding as well as the free will of defendants.”

Their brief also argues that the purpose of the Sixth Amendment goes beyond merely preserving the adversary process and that the Jackson rule protects crucial Fifth Amendment due process protections that help ensure a fair trial and public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system:

Third, Jackson links two key criminal procedural rights — the Sixth Amendment right to counsel under Gideon v. Wainwright and the Fifth Amendment rights of an accused under Miranda — which are fundamental to the adversary process and maintain public confidence in our criminal justice system. Discarding Jackson would undermine both rights. Allowing the police to initiate interrogation of a represented defendant and to use any resulting statements would strip away protections the attorney can provide, interfere with the relationship between counsel and client, and undercut the integrity of criminal trials…To abandon a rule that safeguards them would erode the public confidence they foster. It would signal that enduring legal principles and important constitutional rights are no longer so enduring nor so important.

Just another example of the Obama administration adopting Bush administration positions and undermining constitutional protections.


Invoke your rights or lose them

18 Jun

The Supreme Court Decided Your Silence Can Be Used Against You

A nation continues to wait for final word on the Supreme Court’s Big Four cases this term — voting rights, affirmative action, DOMA, and Proposition 8 — but the justices’ closest decision arrived first on Monday, in a 5-4 ruling on Salinas v. Texas in which the conservative members of the Court and Anthony Kennedy determined that if you remain silent before police read your Miranda rights, that silence can and will be held against you. Here’s what that means.

Basically, if you’re ever in any trouble with police (no, we don’t condone breaking laws) and want to keep your mouth shut, you will need to announce that you’re invoking your Fifth Amendment right instead of, you know, just keeping your mouth shut. “Petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question,” reads the opinion from Justice Samuel Alito, which Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts backed. Justices Thomas and Scalia had a concurring opinion while the remaining four Supremes dissented. 

The Salinas case revolves around Genovevo Salinas, a man who was convicted of a 1992 murder of two brothers. Salinas was brought in for police questioning in January 1993. According to the dissenting opinion of Justice Breyer, he was called in to “to take photographs and to clear him as [a]suspect” and Salinas was questioned without being read his Miranda rights:

Because he was “free to leave at that time,” [App.14], they did not give him Miranda warnings. The police then asked Salinas questions. And Salinas answered until the police asked him whether the shotgun from his home “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder [Id., at 17.] At that point Salinas fell silent.

That silence was then used against Salinas in court, and he was eventually convicted. But the bigger question in revisiting this 20-year-old murder case was whether or not prosecutors were allowed to point to that silence, and win a case using Salinas’ own silence against him.

You know what’s a much more recent wrinkle to the potential precedent effect of today’s ruling? A case like that of the younger Boston Marathon suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who reportedly sat through 16 hours of questioning before he was read his Miranda rights. Had Tsarnaev, who was recovering from serious injuries at the time, remained silent during questioning without explicitly invoking his Fifth Amendment, prosecutors could, under the Salinas ruling, now use that silence to their advantage.

It all seems ridiculously terrifying, this idea that in order to claim your Fifth Amendment, you now need to know how to call the on-the-fly legal equivalent of “safesies.” Your right to remain silent just got more complicated, and it will require potential criminals to be more informed about their protections and the linguistic details on how to invoke them. “But does it really mean that the suspect must use the exact words ‘Fifth Amendment’? How can an individual who is not a lawyer know that these particular words are legally magic?” Breyer wrote

Andrea Lalama on the Infowars Nightly News about facebook censoring photos of her children and the causes of autism.

17 Jun
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