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Slam Dunk For Miranda

The U.S. Supreme Court gave strong new backing Monday to the 1966 ruling that requires police to read criminal suspects their rights before they can be questioned.

As CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports, the Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 margin that the Miranda Warning, which requires police to inform suspects they can remain silent, was a good idea when the court ordered it 34 years ago, and remains a good idea.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, "Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture. ...We decline to overrule (it)."

The decision was a disappointment for conservatives who felt that sometimes good confessions were being thrown out on technicalities. They cite cases like that of Carlos Sampson, whose confession was disallowed even though he admitted killing his daughter.

The ruling was a victory for the Clinton administration and civil libertarians, which said the Miranda decision prevents police coercion and misconduct once suspects have been taken into custody for questioning.

"I am very pleased that ... the Supreme Court by a large majority, has affirmed that ruling and upheld the important constitutional rights protected by Miranda," President Clinton said in a statement after the ruling.

Police were divided on the issue, with some opposing Miranda and others arguing the ruling protected police as well as suspects. Much of law enforcement, including the FBI, had already decided to keep reading a suspect his rights regardless of the court's decision.

But some say Miranda allows some guilty suspects to go free:

"Thousands of confessed and dangerous criminals go free because police or prosecutors make some kind of mistake in dealing with the highly technical Miranda rules," Paul Cassell of the University of Utah told the CBS News Early Show Tuesday.

Miranda was challenged on the basis of an obscure law passed in the late 1960s. But Rehnquist wrote Miranda is a constitutional requirement, which cannot be overturned by Congress.

With only day left in the session, the court also ruled on a New Jersey case that juries, rather than judges, must rule on whether a crime was a hate crime.

That 5-4 decision overturned a 12-year prison sentence imposed on a white New Jersey man who fired shots into a black family's home. The man is entitled to a jury trial on whether he acted out of racial bias, the justices said.

Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens said the case was a question of procedure. The justices previously ruled that any factor, except for a prior conviction, "that increases the maximum penalty for a crime must be charged in an indictment, submitted to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

As usual, it's the end of the term when the most contentious and the most difficult cases are finally decidedreports CBS News Correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis.

One such case involves whether the Boys Scouts of America can exclude gays from serving as troop leaders.

Perhaps the toughest issue being weighed by the court is the question of late-term abortion. Opponents of this procedure have lobbied in 30 states to ban late-term abortions. Pro-choice advocates, however, believe if the court upholds the bans, it will sharply erode the fundamental right to abortion.

CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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