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U.S. Supreme Court Declares a Suspect Must Speak to Remain Silent

Posted by attorney Kevin Leckerman

On June 1, 2010, the United States Supreme Court made a surprising ruling that requires a suspect to unequivocally express a desire to remain silent before that constitutional right can be honored.

In Berghuis v. Thompkins, police officers questioned Van Chester Thompkins regarding his suspected involvement in a homicide. The officers placed Thompkins in a room that was 8 by 10 feet. While inside the room, the police questioned Thompkins for almost 3 hours. During that time, Thompkins remained silent and did not answer any of the questions asked by the police.

At the end of the interrogation, an officer asked Thompkins, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?" Thompkins responded “Yes" and looked away with tears in his eyes. Prior to the statement, Thompkins never asked for an attorney or verbally stated that he wished to remain silent.

Extending its prior ruling in Davis v. United States, the Court held that a suspect must make an unambiguous statement in order to have police cease questioning. Remaining silent for almost 3 hours was not a clear expression of a desire not to speak with the police. Thus, Thompkins failed to invoke his right to remain silent and his statement was admissible evidence.

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