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A tale of judges ruling 5-4 on Miranda

Jun 16, 2011 A tale of judges ruling 5-4 on Miranda

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

Miranda v. Arizona,384 U.S. 436 (1966), must be kept sacrosanct, and not made into a farce akin to a person dancing around with a fruit salad on her head.

None of the sitting Supreme Court justices seem likely to vote to completely overturn Miranda. Nevertheless, we likely will see nearly annual tugs-of-war among justices in a struggle by some to chip away at Miranda and by others to prevent that.

Today, a sharply-divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a juvenile’s age is a factor in the Miranda custody analysis. J.D.B. v. North Carolina, ___ U.S. ___ (June 16, 2011). Had the Court ruled otherwise, the police would have had a field day thereafter in making all the more suspects think they are in custody, testify that they were not in custody, and get judges to agree in all the more instances that Miranda rights did not have to be administered.

In J.D.B. police stopped J.D.B. one day and questioned him about a nearby burglary. Then, around a week later, the school’s police officer (blessedly, my public schools never had police staff) went to thirteen-year-old J.D.B.’s classroom and took him to an interrogation room at the school (I see it as an interrogation room), where police and administrators proceeded to interrogate him about the burglary, without Mirandizing him and without advising his parents that he would be interrogated.

The dissent describes the J.D.B. majority opinion to be a radical move that will have devastating consequences for effective law enforcement. The majority seems to characterize its opinion as a modest ruling, which I think it is, in that J.D.B. merely makes a juvenile’s age a factor in the Miranda custody analysis, rather than a bright line automatically requiring the recitation of Miranda rights. If J.D.B. will lead police to overcover risk by Mirandizing juveniles more often in circumstances where they would not ordinarily Mirandize adults, all the better. The reading of such rights takes under a minute, and still repeatedly leads to verbal diarrhea from suspects.

This 5-4 opinion’s voting lineup comes in predictable fashion, with the dissenters being Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito, once again with Justice Kennedy as the swing vote. As much as I am lukewarm at best about Barack Obama, had John McCain beat Obama in 2008, I have little doubt that McCain would have appointed two justices (as opposed to Obama’s installation of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, neither of whom I am crazy about, but there are many worse choices available than they) that would have caused an opposite outcome in J.D.B. Ever since Ronald Reagan, we have seen the worst federal judicial appointments come from Republican presidents.

Praised be Miranda.

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