News 12.08.09

Supreme Court Reviews Miranda Warnings

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case challenging the wording of the Miranda rights that law enforcement officers read to suspects before questioning. Miranda rights, established in

a 1966 Supreme Court decision

, alert suspects to their rights before and during an interrogation, including the right to remain silent and to speak with an attorney. At issue in Monday’s case was the wording about the right to have an attorney present throughout an interrogation.

These details are critical to preventing wrongful convictions, because 25% of the wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing involved false confessions, many of which were made by suspects who were interrogated by police without a lawyer present.

Monday’s case,


Florida v. Powell


, involved a Tampa, Florida, case where the defendant, Kevin DeWayne Powell, signed a statement that included the language: “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.''

Powell’s attorneys challenged the Tampa version of the rights, saying they didn’t meet the Miranda standard, which includes a clause informing suspects that an attorney can be with them during questioning, as opposed to before. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, tossing his conviction because the rights were too vague. According to SCOTUSblog, some of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices suggested at oral arguments that narrowing the required rights could be dangerous, while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the court had established a standard set of rights that did not include a warning about the continued presence of a lawyer.


Read the full analysis at SCOTUSblog

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Read more coverage of oral arguments in the Miami Herald

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Learn more about the role of false confessions in wrongful convictions

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