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The 1966 landmark decision, Miranda v. Arizona, determined that a person in custody had certain rights. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The most commonly known of these rights are the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The recent United States Supreme Court ruling in Berghuis v. Thompkins, effectively erased an individual’s right to remain silent. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy’s ruling now requires an individual in custody to affirmatively tell the police that he or she wants to remain silent in order to stop a police interrogation. In other words, a person must give up his right to remain silent, by telling the police that he or she wants to remain silent.

This ruling completely changes an individual’s “Miranda rights.” Prior to this ruling, the police had to read an individual his or her rights and then an individual had to affirmatively make a “knowing and intelligent” waiver of those rights. Minnesota police officers routinely read an individual his or her rights and then specifically ask “having these rights in mind, are you willing to talk to us about what happened.”

The prosecution has had a “heavy burden” in proving that a waiver was knowing and voluntary (Tague v. Louisiana, 444 U.S. 469, 470– 471 (1980); a court was not allowed to “presume” a waiver from a suspect’s silence. North Carolina v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369, 373 (1979). Even a signed waiver form was not necessarily enough because the prosecution still had the burden of showing that a person understood his or her rights and that he or she was willing to waive them (Id. at 371). The law was such that it presumed an individual did not waive his or her right to remain silent. Id.

Previously, the United States Supreme Court explained the value of the underlying constitutional guarantee against self-incrimination. The Court stated this protection reflects “many of our fundamental values and most noble aspirations,” our society’s “preference for an accusatorial rather than an inquisitorial system of criminal justice;” a “fear that self-incriminating statements will be elicited by inhumane treatment and abuses” and a resulting “distrust of self-deprecatory statements;” and a realization that while the privilege is “sometimes a shelter to the guilty, [it] is often a protection to the innocent.” Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 692 (1993).

The Court has long held that a criminal law system “which comes to depend on the ‘confession’ will, in the long run, be less reliable and subject to more abuse than a system relying on independent investigation.” Id. The sanctity of our criminal justice system, the cornerstone of which is an individual’s right to a fair trial, relies upon constitutional guarantee against self-incrimination. An individual will now be presumed to have given up one of the most sacred rights a United States citizen has, his or her right to remain silent.

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