WASHINGTON (AP) -- Police still must warn the people they arrest
of their "right to remain silent" when questioned, the Supreme Court
ruled Monday as it resolved a bitter, 34-year debate over criminal
The 7-2 ruling gave a new constitutional dimension to the court's
landmark Miranda decision of 1966, perhaps the Supreme Court ruling
Americans know best.
"Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the
point where the warnings have become part of our national culture,"
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court.
"Miranda announced a constitutional rule that Congress may not
supersede legislatively," he said. "We decline to overrule Miranda
As a result, police still are required to give the warnings made
familiar to generations of Americans by movies and television or
else risk getting suspects' confessions excluded as evidence against
Suspects must be told that anything they say may be used against
them, they can remain silent or have a lawyer's help while
answering, and that a lawyer will be appointed to help them if they
cannot afford to hire one.
The new decision delighted civil liberties groups and
disappointed some law enforcement organizations.
The court, far more liberal 34 years ago than it is now, sought
to remedy "inherently coercive" interrogations by creating bright-
line guidelines in its Miranda vs. Arizona decision. Courts
previously had used a "totality-of-the-circumstances" test to
determine whether a confession or incriminating statement had been
given to police voluntarily.
The Constitution's Fifth Amendment says, "No person ... shall be
compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."
A federal appeals court last year threw the future of those
warnings into doubt, ruling that Congress in effect overturned the
Miranda decision by enacting a long-ignored 1968 law known as
That law purports to return the law, at least in federal cases,
to pre-Miranda days. It says "the presence or absence" of any factor
such as a Miranda warning "need not be conclusive on the issue of
The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that
the warnings imposed on police by the Miranda decision were never
Monday's decision said the appeals court wrongly ignored the
length of time Miranda has been around and the dozens of follow-up
Supreme Court decisions it spawned.
"Whether or not we would agree with Miranda's reasoning and its
resulting rule were we addressing the issue in the first instance,"
its age and those other precedents "weigh heavily against overruling
it now," Rehnquist said.
Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union praised the
court for upholding the Miranda ruling, which he called "an emblem
"Doing away with the police warnings would have sent a terrible
message about our criminal justice system, that effective law
enforcement depends on keeping people ignorant of their rights,"
But a disappointed Robert Scully of the National Association of
Police Organizations called the Miranda ruling "a vehicle inviting
routine efforts to exclude voluntary confessions," and predicted
that Monday's decision "will only increase the amount of litigation
on this point in state and federal courts."
"This case was not about whether giving the warnings made good
public policy, which many law enforcement officers support," Scully
said. "Rather, it was about the automatic exclusion of incriminating
statements if there was a technical violation of the Miranda
Justices Antonin Scalia wrote a scathing dissent, in which
Justice Clarence Thomas joined.
Scalia accused Rehnquist, a frequent past critic of the Miranda
ruling, and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. …