A right to remain silent and a right to a lawyer are the first of the Miranda rights warnings, which police recite to suspects during arrests and interrogations. But the justices said in a 5-4 decision that suspects must tell police they are going to remain silent to stop an interrogation, just as they must tell police that they want a lawyer.
The ruling comes in a case where a suspect, Van Chester Thompkins, remained mostly silent for a three-hour police interrogation before implicating himself in a Jan. 10, 2000, murder in Southfield, Mich. He appealed his conviction, saying that he invoked his Miranda right to remain silent by remaining silent.
But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the decision for the court's conservatives, said that wasn't enough.
"Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk to police," Kennedy said. "Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his 'right to cut off questioning.' Here he did neither, so he did not invoke his right to remain silent."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's newest member, wrote a strongly worded dissent for the court's liberals, saying the majority's decision "turns Miranda upside down."
"Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent - which counterintuitively, requires them to speak," she said. "At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so. Those results, in my view, find no basis in Miranda or our subsequent cases and are inconsistent with the fair-trial principles on which those precedents are grounded."
Van Chester Thompkins was arrested for murder in 2001 and interrogated by police for three hours. At the beginning, Thompkins was read his Miranda rights and said he understood.
The officers in the room said Thompkins said little during the interrogation, occasionally answering "yes," "no," "I don't know," nodding his head and making eye contact as his responses. But when one of the officers asked him if he prayed for forgiveness for "shooting that boy down," Thompkins said, "Yes."
He was convicted, but on appeal he wanted that statement thrown out because he said he invoked his Miranda rights by being uncommunicative with the interrogating officers.
The Cincinnati-based appeals court agreed and threw out his confession and conviction. The high court reversed that decision.
The case is Berghuis v. Thompkins, 08-1470.
Former Somali Prime Minister Can be Sued in U.S.
The court refused to block a lawsuit against a former prime minister of Somalia over claims that he oversaw killings and torture in his home country.
The high court said it will allow lawsuits against Mohamed Ali Samantar to go forward despite his claims of immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. However, the court warned that the U.S. District Court will have to decide whether Samantar can access other claims of immunity that could stop the trial.
The case is Samantar v. Yousuf, 08-1555.
Student Doctors' Tax Case to be Heard Next Term
The court will decide whether student doctors are students or employees when it comes to collecting Social Security taxes.
The high court will hear an appeal from the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minn., and the University of Minnesota, which says the IRS shouldn't have made it collect the taxes.
Argument will take place in the fall or winter. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan would not take part in the case if confirmed because she signed the government's brief defending the IRS' position.
Special Section: Elena Kagan
The case is Mayo Foundation v. United States, 09-837.
Rogue Juror Appeal Rejected
The court rejected an appeal from a federal death row inmate who said his death sentence should have been thrown out because of a juror's misconduct.
The justices did not comment in turning down Brandon Basham, who was sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing 44-year-old Alice Donovan in 2002. The foreman on Basham's jury was held in contempt of court by the trial judge after it was learned that she called five news organizations and made 71 other calls to two fellow jurors, despite repeated warnings from the judge to refrain from discussing the case with anyone.
When Basham took his plea to the Supreme Court, Kagan, then solicitor general, agreed that the judge had made the correct call.
Death Row Innocence Claim Rejected
The court won't hear an Ohio man's arguments that he will be wrongfully executed for fatally shooting three people.
The high court on Tuesday refused to hear Kevin Keith's appeal. Keith is scheduled to be executed in September. Keith's lawyers wanted justices to review the evidence in the killing of three people in a 1994 shooting in northern Ohio.
They say courts have never heard evidence that could exonerate him. That includes an alternate suspect who boasted he was going to carry out the killings, an enlarged photo of Keith used during a picture lineup and witnesses who say Keith was elsewhere.