In a pathbreaking judgment that is likely to have far reaching effect, the Supreme Court of the United States diluted Miranda rights in application when it ruled that it was on the detainee to clearly and unambiguously invoke the Miranda rights, and a failure to do so could allow the authorities to use what he discloses during the interrogation against him in a court of law.
So far the position of law as reiterated by the Supreme Court over and over again was that the onus was on the Government to show that the prisoner had understood his rights and had waived the same "knowingly and intelligently". However, in the 5-4 ruling pronounced on June 1, 2010, the Supreme Court held that it was upon the prisoner to invoke Miranda rights, failing which the words that he later utters can be used to obtain a conviction. As per the ruling the police are "not required to obtain a waiver" of the "right to remain silent before interrogating" the prisoner.
In the case before the Supreme Court, Michigan police had already read Miranda rights to the suspect, Van Thompkinds, who said that he had understood but did not expressly state he either wanted the interrogation to stop or that he wished to speak to a lawyer. He simply said wordlessly for nearly two hours and 45 minutes after which he finally responded in affirmative to the question as to whether or not he prayed to God to forgive him for shooting the boy down. He simply said 'yes' and looked away and did not sign a confession and also refused to speak any further. However, largely on the basis of the brief 'yes' he was convicted of first-degree murder.
The conviction was trashed by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that since the conviction was secured through an incriminating answer, it stood in violation of the prisoner 's right against self-incrimination under the Miranda decision.
However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and reversed the ruling reinstating the conviction. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, "A suspect who has received and understood the Miranda warnings, and has not invoked his Miranda rights, waives the right to remain silent by making an uncoerced statement to the police." Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., agreed.
However, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, speaking for the four dissenting justices assailed the ruling saying that it "marks a substantial retreat from the protections against compelled selfincrimination that Miranda v. Arizona has long provided". She was joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
The majority judgment is very much in line with the position that the Obama administration and US Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, take with respect to the right of the detainees. Kagan, in her brief filed in support of Michigan prosecutors, said that "the Government need not prove that a suspect expressly waived his rights". And "if a suspect knows and understands his Miranda rights," nothing bars the prosecutors from using whatever he or she says against him or her in court.