- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003


The Supreme Court grappled yesterday with lingering questions about its 37-year-old mandate that police officers give suspects the familiar warning that begins “You have the right to remain silent …” before starting interrogations.

The landmark Miranda v. Arizona ruling has been criticized harshly over the years, and some people believe the court could roll back some of its protections.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist complained that the court has heard 40 to 50 Miranda-related cases since 1966, and questions still keep popping up.

The eventual rulings, in two Miranda cases argued yesterday and two others that will follow this term, will clarify rules for police questioning and let courts know when they must bar confessions or evidence from trials.

Justice David H. Souter said the court should be careful not to give police “a recipe for disregarding Miranda.”

But Justice Stephen G. Breyer said justices should not put too many restrictions on front-line officers. “Is it fair to ask a policeman … to be a lawyer?” he asked.

At issue in the cases is what happens when police fail to read suspects their rights before seizing evidence they plan to use at trial and whether authorities can question suspects before telling them their rights, as part of a strategy to get information to use in a second, “official” interrogation.

In one of the cases, a Colorado man accused of harassing his girlfriend in 2001 told police not to bother reading him the warning when officers came to his house to question him. He then told them he had a gun in his bedroom. Samuel Patane, who had a felony record, was charged with illegal possession of a firearm.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the gun could not be used as evidence against Mr. Patane because it was the tainted fruit of a statement made without a Miranda warning.

Mr. Patane’s attorney, public defender Jill Wichlens, pressed the court not to “give officers a pass to say Miranda is optional.”

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