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Miranda Rights To Be Re-Examined

The Supreme Court said Monday it will reconsider the scope of the familiar police warnings that begin, "You have the right to remain silent."

The court will look at whether physical evidence seized without such warnings can be used at trial.

The case is a follow-up to a Supreme Court ruling three years ago that upheld the warnings laid out in 1966 in a case called Miranda vs. Arizona.

The court agreed to hear the Bush administration's appeal in the case of a Colorado man arrested for violating a domestic restraining order. Police started to read Samuel Patane his Miranda rights, but Patena cut them off. Police then asked Patane if he owned any guns. Told yes, police looked for and found an illegal pistol.

A federal appeals court ruled that the pistol could not be used against Patane at trial. Police found the gun because they questioned Patane, and the questioning was done without Miranda warnings, the lower court found last year.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that the Supreme Court had brought on the question with its ruling in 2000 that reaffirmed Miranda. The 2000 case called into question two earlier rulings that would seem to allow searches such as the one at Patane's house, that court said.

The Bush administration argued that the lower court got it wrong. The later ruling did not undermine the principle that if a suspect voluntarily answered police questions, any evidence seized as a result may be used against him, the government said.

The question comes up often, Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote in asking the high court to intervene.

In this case, the suspect himself waved off a federal agent who started to read the Miranda warnings during the 2001 arrest, the government noted.

"In other cases, warnings may be omitted in a fast-moving investigation," Olson wrote.

The high court should step in "because the suppression of probative physical evidence in such cases imposes serious costs on the administration of justice," Olson wrote.

Patane's lawyer argued there is no reason for the Supreme Court to get involved. The court will hear the case in the term that begins in the fall.

The Miranda Rights stem from a 1966 Supreme Court ruling that resulted from Ernesto Miranda's 1963 arrest for bank robbery in Phoenix. While in police custody he signed a written confession to the robbery, and to kidnapping and raping a slightly retarded woman 11 days earlier. His conviction was overthrown when the justices ruled that a suspect not only has the right to not answer questions and to consult with an attorney, but must also be apprised of those rights before questioning.

This case is about the timing of the warning and whether prosecutors can use evidence at trial that is found after a suspect interrupts the police when they are giving the warning and then answers questions, says Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. By taking the case, the Court is trying to tidy up a few loose ends it generated when it a Miranda ruling a few years ago. That ruling, which upheld the warning, apparently has created a great deal of confusion in the lower courts,

The case is United States v. Patane, 02-1183.

In other action Monday:

  • The city of San Diego lost a government religion case Monday when the Supreme Court refused to consider whether city leaders wrongly sold a cross in a park to a memorial association.
  • The justices refused to consider restricting the power of California's governor to block the parole of convicted murderers. A parole board approved a convict's release from prison, but Gov. Gray Davis blocked it under a 1988 voter-approved constitutional amendment that gives the governor carte blanche to overturn releases.
  • The High Court declined to consider whether the government improperly limited air tours over the Grand Canyon, except for companies that do business with an Indian tribe.