Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Supreme Court has chance to do right on Miranda rights

Any red-blooded American kid raised on cop TV shows can complete this sentence: "You have the right to remain … "

Silent — everyone knows that. Then there's the also-important part about your right to a lawyer when cops question you about a crime. Once again, Miranda warnings are front and center before the U.S. Supreme Court, in a small-time case with big-time implications from our own back yard.

Given that this is a question of fundamental fairness decided by the court 43 years ago, we need to get Miranda right.

The question under current Supreme Court contemplation: Did a Miranda warning used by Tampa police make it clear to the suspect, Kevin Powell, that he had the right to a lawyer during questioning — not just beforehand?

Critics say the "you have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions" language leaves open to argument whether a suspect has been properly informed of that same right once questions start to fly.

Powell, who signed the Miranda form, confessed to having a 9mm gun — not good when you're already a convicted felon — and got 10 years.

Cynics say bad guys already know these rights chapter and verse, but that's not the point. Justice is (allegedly) blind and (supposed to be) equally applied, to a felon the same as to you and me, should we one day find ourselves (wrongly) accused. Miranda is there to keep the system clean, from genuine mistakes by police to deliberate omissions intended to get a suspect to spill.

Different departments can give the Miranda warnings differently. The Supreme Court has resisted giving a template for police to follow, maybe because justices view their role as different from that of legislators or even officers on the street. But during arguments in the Powell case this week, they sure seemed to be leaning toward providing more specific guidance police could use nationwide. Good. Obviously, we need it.

Now: For those with no use for Miranda, for whom even the fundamental fairness argument holds no water and to whom this is just more mollycoddling of bad guys, consider this:

When police fail to be clear about a suspect's right to remain silent and to have a lawyer — out of sloppiness, faulty department policy or deliberate cutting of corners — a case can be reversed. Charges can be thrown out, bargained down or dropped, if prosecutors have little else, meaning suspects go free or at least do so sooner. Retrials? They are on our dime.

Then there are crime victims or their survivors, and how many times they can endure retrials. A similar question about Miranda rights is pending in a double-murder death penalty horror of a case out of Polk County.

So here's hoping the Supreme Court is of a mind to give guidance and those in the clean-up-crime business are amenable to consistency. Constitutional purists and cynics alike should agree on at least this: getting it right the first time.

Finally, a footnote: Ernesto Miranda, for whom the landmark 1966 case is named, was later retried and convicted even without his problematic confession. The irony: After his release, he was fatally stabbed in a bar, a suspect was read his Miranda rights in English and Spanish, the charge against him was later dropped.

Supreme Court has chance to do right on Miranda rights 12/08/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 8:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Those wide-open, end-to-end, shoot-at-will games are a lot of fun to watch, especially when those shots are going in the net. But if the players had their druthers, they would rather have a more controlled pace, one with which they can dictate the action.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy


    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.