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Supreme Court: Suspects must assert Miranda right to remain silent

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Miranda v. Arizona is the decision that created the requirement that police advise suspects of their right to remain silent and to the assistance of a lawyer. The requirement is designed to prevent police from attempting to solve crimes by beating or otherwise coercing confessions from suspects. It is also designed to ensure that any statements made in police custody are voluntary and, thus, more reliable as evidence.

Silent during questioning ... mostly

Tuesday’s decision comes via an appeal stemming from a fatal shooting in January 2000 outside a shopping mall in Southfield, Mich.

Van Chester Thompkins was arrested about a year later and interrogated by police. During the questioning, Mr. Thompkins was advised of his Miranda rights and given a form to sign. He refused to sign it.

Nonetheless, police say Thompkins verbally confirmed that he understood his rights. Thompkins disputes this.

Thompkins remained largely silent during most of a three-hour interrogation. About 2 hours and 45 minutes into the questioning, one of the officers asked Thompkins if he believed in God. When he answered, “Yes,” police say his eyes welled up with tears.

The officer then asked: “Do you pray to God?”

The suspect answered: “Yes.”

Another question: “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?”

Thompkins answered: “Yes."

Thompkins was charged with first-degree murder. At trial, his lawyer tried to keep the incriminating statement out of the trial by arguing that his client had invoked his right to remain silent.

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