- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2018


Authorities in Baltimore are following the lead of the Left Coast and considering a watered-down version of indelible rights in the U.S. Constitution regarding self-incrimination.

Specifically, supporters are pushing this agenda because they don’t think youngsters are capable of grasping the meaning of “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you by the court.”

A potential kid-version: Hi, son, don’t be afraid. Just tell us what happened. What did you do? (The patrol car door is slammed shut.)

Now, whether you watched any of the “Law and Order” franchises, the street-life TV characterizations centered in Baltimore or CBS’ award-winning “Kojak,” which stemmed from a 1966 landmark ruling, you know that Miranda rights are pivotal to nabbing fictional bad guys.

In real life, adherence to the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are the real cog in the wheel of justice.

For example, if someone in police custody makes a statement or confession that is presumed to be involuntary, it cannot be used against the person in any criminal case. Moreover, any evidence discovered as a result of that statement will likely be thrown out.

Hope that’s not the case of a 16-year-old boy, Dwanta Anthony Harris, who is in jail after being charged with murder and other crimes after fleeing the scene of a robbery and running down a Baltimore County police officer who had pulled him over. Dwanta was the suspected getaway driver for the thieves, and police reportedly found the keys to the stolen Jeep getaway vehicle.

His attorney, meanwhile, has said his client hasn’t been able to pass muster for ninth grade, and has asked that Dwanta be placed in a maximum-security juvenile facility.

Baltimore County Judge Sally Chester rejected the proposition, saying she isn’t “sure any juvenile facility is secure enough” and calling him a “one-man crime wave.” Dwanta had been involved with car thefts several times since 2015, and it seems he just couldn’t get right.

Let’s hope, too, that his constitutional rights were not violated.

The Miranda warning got its name from a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1966, Miranda v. Arizona — the case of a man convicted of rape but who had not been apprised of his rights, now known as “Mirandized.” The court ordered him to be retried.

The Supreme Court made another Miranda ruling in 2011, this one involving juveniles. Writing for the 5-4 majority in J.D.B. v. North Carolina, Justice Sonya Sotomayor said that “commonsense reality [is] that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave.”

The law is the law, for sure, though it’s understandable why advocates are pressing to reform the system, end the pipeline to prison and loosen the laws because of the media’s coverage of the wrongly convicted.

What’s baffling, however, is the loudest voices want to go soft after someone has been caught breaking the law. Taking law enforcers to task for willfully denying someone their constitutional rights, isn’t right.

Neither is corralling middle schoolers in a conference room, forcing them to be questioned by police and school authorities longer than a half-hour, and failing to inform them they can get up and leave at anytime. That’s what happened in the J.D.B. case.

Youths and schools would be better off teaching civics, explaining to children what the Constitution says and teaching them how to research why it says what it says. And, while school authorities are at it, the civics lessons can note why the First Amendment about the right to yakety-yak precedes the Fifth about the right to shut up and walk away.

Both amendments reflect the common sense of America’s forebears, a lesson it seems the people who control our public education systems need to be mindful of as well.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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