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I am a grouchy, bald headed old fart filled with opinions and not the least bit shy about sharing them.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Does the Miranda Warning go far enough?

Indianapolis, IN - We've all heard the Miranda warning watching movies, police shows and reality shows like Cops. Some of us have heard it read by real police officers. A few may even have had it read to us in a formal capacity.

The Miranda Warning is some variation of these words:

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?"
Miranda Warning

That brings us to a current case before the United States Supreme Court. The court heard arguments on Monday in Florida v. Powell over the scope and nature of the language advising a suspect about their right to representation by an attorney. Tampa police arrested Kevin Powell and he subsequently agreed to confess his sins. He was given an oral and written Miranda advisement.

The hitch come in this language from the written document Powell signed:

You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.
USA Today

The argument is that the warning as written and apparently verbally given did not leave Powell with the impression he could have an attorney present during questioning. The Florida Supreme Court sided with Powell stating the warning did not clearly convey the message that Powell could consult an attorney at anytime during the questioning. His conviction was overturned.

The State of Florida appealed that ruling to the United States Supreme Court with the position that the warning contained all that the law required.

I can see why. If this case goes against Florida, there is going to be a wholesale flood of appeals. On the other hand, that is one way to solve the prison over crowding problems in Florida.

Back where I come from the Miranda is slightly different. The sentence at issue is read, "You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning." It would be a shame if a bunch of dirtballs are set free based on one poorly written sentence.


From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own.
- Carl Schurz

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