Anyone who watches police dramas on television (or makes a habit
of breaking the law) is likely to have heard law-enforcement
officials recite the so-called Miranda warnings.
"You have the right to remain silent. If you give up this right,
anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law;
you have a right to counsel ..."
Although such warnings have become widely known, they have
remained a source of controversy within the law-enforcement
community ever since the US Supreme Court endorsed the practice in
the 1966 landmark case Miranda v. Arizona. This week, the US Supreme
Court takes up three cases all dealing with police attempts to
bypass the Miranda warnings at crucial stages of an investigation.
The cases are important because the high court may use this
opportunity to carve out significant exceptions to what defense
lawyers say should be a bright-line rule that incriminating
statements obtained from a suspect in police custody prior to the
issuing of Miranda warnings may not be used as evidence in court.
At issue in each of the cases is the so-called exclusionary rule,
which requires that evidence obtained by police in ways that violate
constitutional principles must be excluded from use at a trial.
In a major decision in 2000 called Dickerson v. US, the justices
declined to overrule the Miranda decision. Instead, they declared
that the Miranda warnings were more than just judicial guidance;
they amount to a constitutional rule.
Now, three years later, the court is in a position to define the
scope of the constitutional holding in Miranda. Will a majority of
justices view it in the same sweeping terms discussed by Chief
Justice Earl Warren in 1966? Or will they cut it back in a way that
will allow law-enforcement officials greater flexibility?
"This is a back-door way around Dickerson," says James Tomkovicz,
a visiting professor at UCLA Law School, who filed a friend-of-the-
court brief on behalf of the National Association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers and other groups. "It would be a gaping hole in the
protection that Miranda provides" if the court upholds the police
practices at issue, he says.
Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation sees
the issue differently. "The bright-line rule of Miranda is not as
bright as advertised," he says in a friend-of-the-court brief. "The
cost of suppression [of evidence] in a case such as this vastly
outweighs the benefits."
The first case the court is set to hear Tuesday involves Samuel
Patane of Colorado Springs. In June 2001, police arrested Mr. Patane
for allegedly violating a restraining order. An officer began
reciting the Miranda warnings, but Patane interrupted, "I know my