Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

U.S. Supreme Court okays Miranda warning used by Tampa police

TAMPA — Overturning a lower court ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday that Tampa police adequately informed a suspect of his right to consult an attorney during questioning.

The Florida Attorney General's Office, which had asked the nation's highest court to intervene, called the 7-2 decision "a significant win for law enforcement and public safety."

The ruling means Kevin Dewayne Powell will likely remain in prison for the rest of his 10-year sentence for illegally possessing a firearm.

It should also bring clarity to a number of pending and potential cases nationwide, including one in which Hillsborough prosecutors have considered charging a man with murder.

In keeping with their past decisions, justices did not dictate the precise language police must use when reading suspects their Miranda rights. But Michael Sinacore, felony bureau chief for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, said the majority sent a clear message about how to interpret the warnings.

"If there is a lesson to be learned," he said, "it's to look at the entirety of the warning and apply commonsense meaning to it."

Tampa police arrested Powell, a felon, in August 2004 after officers found a loaded pistol during a search of his girlfriend's apartment. After his arrest but before questioning him, police read him their standard Miranda warning.

Powell signed the form that stated in part: "You 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."

He then admitted that the handgun was his.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry denied Powell's motion to suppress his incriminating statements. The 2nd District Court of Appeal and later the state Supreme Court cited that ruling as grounds to reverse Powell's conviction.

The Florida Supreme Court found that the warning Tampa police read to Powell was misleading. The court said it suggested he could consult with an attorney only before the interrogation and not throughout it.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

The majority said the warning reasonably conveyed Powell's right to have an attorney present at all times.

"Nothing in the words used indicated that counsel's presence would be restricted after the questioning commenced," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who authored the majority opinion.

"Although the warnings were not the clearest possible formulation of Miranda's right-to-counsel advisement, they were sufficiently comprehensive and comprehensible when given a commonsense reading," Ginsburg said.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Stevens questioned whether the court even had the right to review the Florida Supreme Court's decision. He sided with Powell's argument that the warning form was deficient.

"This is, I believe, the first time the court has approved a warning which, if given its natural reading, entirely omitted an essential element of a suspect's rights," Stevens wrote.

Powell's attorney did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

The Tampa Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies no longer use the disputed Miranda form. After it took hits at the appellate level, prosecutors issued a revised form that makes clear the right to an attorney before and during questioning.

Tuesday's decision is not automatically binding on Florida courts. The state Supreme Court must now reconsider its ruling in light of the new opinion and decide whether to uphold Powell's conviction, Sinacore said.

He expects only a handful of other Hillsborough cases to be affected.

Prosecutors had previously delayed filing a murder charge against Scott Schweickert, convicted in federal court of helping to drug and rape a Tampa man, because they wanted to see how the Powell case would affect the use of his incriminating statements at trial. Sinacore said they will now consider the decision as part of weighing the evidence in the Schweickert case.

In response to earlier appellate decisions in the Powell case that didn't go the state's way, prosecutors already made some compromises they can't undo.

One woman accused of second-degree murder got 10 years trimmed off her prison term after the old Tampa police warning form caused her conviction to get reversed, Sinacore said. In another case, prosecutors had to drop a manslaughter charge when judges ruled the inadequate warning made the defendant's statements inadmissible.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

U.S. Supreme Court okays Miranda warning used by Tampa police 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Encounters: In the quiet of exam rooms, women have been saying 'Me too' for years

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    Meet her with her clothes on.

    Don't make her greet you in a paper gown, slits down the front and flimsy ties. Shake her hand, if she wants to, and introduce yourself. Pause between sentences. This will make it clear that you are listening; that you will listen, to whatever she has to say. Observe what …

     Pam Kelly, a gynecologist at Tampa General Hospital's Family Care Center at HealthPark, teaches future doctors at the University of South Florida how to identify and treat victims of sexual assault. Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times
  2. 'Days were lost': Why Puerto Rico is still suffering a month after Hurricane Maria

    Hurricanes

    MAUNABO, PUERTO RICO — Before Hurricane Maria tore through the rest of this island, it came to Mayor Jorge Márquez's home.

    A man wades through a flooded road, past a boat, in the Toa Ville community two days after the impact of Hurricane Maria in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. Because of flooding, thousands of people are being evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) CGPR130
  3. With college looming, Channel Drive band finds a way to keep on rocking

    Human Interest

    A year and a half.

    That's the time Channel Drive, a band made up of local high school students, had to organize concerts, create music, produce an album and perform in front of audiences before three-fourths of the group were to leave for college.

    One of Channel Drive’s favorite venues is the Brass Mug in North Tampa. Here, from left to right, Colby Williams, Jacob Fleming and Ricardo Ponte command the stage while Alex Carr handles drums.
  4. Florida unemployment rate drops despite huge loss of jobs

    Economic Development

    Florida lost a whopping 127,400 jobs last month as Hurricane Irma swept through, according to state figures released Friday.

    Florida's unemployment rate dropped from 4 percent in August to 3.8 percent in September. Pictured is 
Shantia Blackmon (left),from St. Petersburg, talking with Jocelyn Kelley from North Carolina at a Pinellas Schools County Job Fair in June. | [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  5. Study: When you die, your brain knows you're dead

    Health

    Have you ever wondered what happens after you die?

    According to a new study from NYU, researchers say that a person's brain may function after their death. [iStockPhoto]