- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Investigators must read the familiar Miranda warnings to every arrested suspect for a confession to be used as evidence, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 yesterday, affirming the Warren court's landmark 1966 decision.
"Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture," said the opinion written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who even noted how television cop shows have spread the word.
The ruling strikes down a 1968 federal law designed to thwart the controversial 5-4 ruling written more than a generation ago by Chief Justice Earl Warren.
"In sum, we conclude that Miranda announced a constitutional rule that Congress may not supersede legislatively," Chief Justice Rehnquist said. "We decline to overrule Miranda ourselves."
In other key rulings on a busy day as they rushed to adjourn for the summer, the justices:
By 5-4, required that a jury unanimously find a discriminatory motive beyond a reasonable doubt before a judge may increase a sentence under a "hate-crimes" law or any other law involving motive or purpose.
By 7-2, overturned California's voter-initiated "blanket primary," finding the system violates a political party's right of association to tailor its message and choose its nominees.
That leaves just four cases to announce tomorrow: resolving state bans on partial-birth abortion, anti-abortion demonstrator rights, the Boy Scouts of America's refusal to let homosexual men be scoutmasters and Louisiana's use of public funds to place computers in religious schools. The court then adjourns.
The matter of Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez and his return to the island also is before the court.
Yesterday's outcome in the Miranda-warning case startled Fairfax, Va., lawyer James Hundley, who won his first Supreme Court case by challenging an un-Mirandized statement by accused bank robber Charles Dickerson of Takoma Park, Md.
The ruling squelched Mr. Dickerson's confession to driving the getaway car in the Jan. 24, 1997, robbery at a First Virginia Bank in Alexandria, Va. The robbery was one of seven a federal indictment charged him with.
Mr. Dickerson has not been tried and it remains to be seen what prosecutors will do now. In the 1966 rape case that inscribed Miranda in the lawbooks forever, Ernesto Miranda was convicted anyway, even though his statement was suppressed.
"We still have a long row to hoe," said Mr. Hundley, the Fairfax lawyer appointed to represent Mr. Dickerson. "He's pleased. It's obviously a good decision for his defense."
Mr. Hundley called it surprising that the 5-4 decision of the liberal Warren court has now been solidified by "a 7-2 decision by what would appear to be a much more conservative court."
Joining the majority were Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. "One will search today's opinion in vain … for a statement (surely simple enough to make) that what [Congress] prescribes the use at trial of a voluntary confession, even when a Miranda warning or its equivalent has failed to be given violates the Constitution," they said.
The Rehnquist opinion rejected arguments including his own in some of the 50 or more Miranda cases that have come before the court that the Warren Court ruling was subject to congressional revision because it wasn't a constitutional rule.
"The decision seems to pretty forcefully close the door on any grass-roots attempts that may have been brewing to get the Miranda ruling reversed," said Mr. Hundley.
Robert T. Scully, executive director for the National Association of Police Organizations, said he was disappointed at how far the high court had reached.
"While clearing up the confusion as to whether Miranda was constitutionally compelled, the court improperly applied the Fifth Amendment to voluntary and freely given statements from a suspect," Mr. Scully said.
"If an officer makes just one misstep, not giving a suspect a Miranda warning because he in good faith believes that the suspect is not yet in custody, the incriminating statement is thrown out and the suspect goes free," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union disagreed, delighting in victory on a case that was among its top priorities.
"The ACLU has always believed, and the court today agreed, that effective law enforcement does not and should not depend on keeping people ignorant of their rights," said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU legal director.
Yesterday's decision overturned a 1968 federal law called Section 3501 that allowed in evidence a voluntary confession regardless of whether the Miranda warning was read. Most prosecutors have declined to invoke the law, which the Justice Department believed was unconstitutional.
Washington Legal Foundation lawyers contended repeatedly that Congress changed the rules of evidence with the 1968 law, and Justice Scalia mentioned the issue in a 1994 opinion. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the WLF disputed the constitutional status of the Miranda warning itself, which the 1966 high court called a guideline in lieu of other procedures.
The Fifth Amendment guarantees a person cannot be forced to witness against himself and the Miranda decision, as now interpreted, requires the full warning as insurance that won't happen.
The Miranda warning advises suspects in custody of their right to remain silent, that anything said can be used in court, to have an attorney assist before and during questioning, and to have a lawyer appointed if necessary.
Yesterday's outcome provides the "bright-line rule" sought by Solicitor General Seth Waxman and guarantees that reciting Miranda's storied advice is the only way an investigator can assure the admission in court of a confession by a suspect in custody.
University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, appointed by the high court to defend the congressional act when the Justice Department refused to do so, worked in collaboration with the Washington Legal Foundation.
"What is at stake in this case is whether guilty criminals will continue to go free due to a police mistake," he said after assuring the justices police could not revert to the days when confessions were beaten out of suspects.

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