Miranda Warnings Could Be Doomed

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Thanks to decades of cop shows, there's one thing Americans know about being arrested: You have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, and anything you say may be used against you. These rights became required reading for police when taking a suspect into custody after the Supreme Court's 1966 Miranda ruling. But this week, a federal court in Virginia may have opened the way for the Supreme Court to put an end to a reading of the Miranda warnings. "The lower court ruling could be the start of something dramatic," says TIME writer Adam Cohen. "It could become the vehicle for overturning what many people consider to be a bulwark of American fair play."

The lower court ruled, in effect, that the Miranda warnings are only a constitutional suggestion, as opposed to a constitutional requirement, and that Congress nixed the required reading of the warnings when it passed an obscure law in 1968 that merely requires confessions to be "voluntary." Miranda supporters are particularly alarmed because, says Cohen, "the composition of the Supreme Court has changed dramatically since the Miranda ruling." He notes that "the high court has been quietly chipping away at defendants' rights for years." Several of today's more conservative Justices, some of whom are known to be hostile to Miranda, may see an appeal of the Virginia ruling as an opportunity to knock out Miranda entirely. For now, the lower court's elimination of its protections applies only to federal cases in five states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.