Supreme Court rules police warnings satisfied Miranda requirements

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 in Florida v. Powell [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona [opinion text] are satisfied by advice that a suspect has "the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of [the law enforcement officers'] questions," and that he can invoke this right "at any time ... during th[e] interview." The trial court overruled the defense lawyer's objection, holding that the warning was sufficient, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed [opinion, PDF], finding the warning to be misleading enough to cause a reasonable person to conclude that he or she could only consult with an attorney before questioning. In reversing the decision below, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:


The standard warnings used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are exemplary. They provide, in relevant part: "You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning." This advice is admirably informative, but we decline to declare its precise formulation necessary to meet Miranda's requirements. Different words were used in the advice Powell received, but they communicated the same essential message.

Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Stephen Breyer joined in part. Stevens and Breyer both concluded that the warnings were insufficient, and Stevens asserted that the Florida Supreme Court's decision rested on adequate and independent state grounds so that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case.

In 1966, the court held in Miranda that an individual must be "clearly informed," prior to custodial questioning, that he has, among other rights, "the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation." Kevin Powell was arrested in 2004 in connection with a robbery investigation and was told, "[y]ou have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. ... You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview." Powell signed off that he understood his rights and was willing to talk to investigators. He was subsequently charged in state court with possession of a weapon by a prohibited possessor, and his defense lawyer sought to suppress Powell's statements.


 

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