A U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding reading of Miranda rights to criminal suspects suggests that perhaps eight is not enough and the interpretation of legal rights may be headed for ridiculous extremes.
The Supreme Court last week let stand the nullified murder conviction of Nathaniel Harvey, who had confessed to the 1985 ax-murder of a New Jersey woman. The court upheld an earlier ruling that Harvey had not been adequately informed of his Miranda rights - the right to remain silent and to ask for a lawyer.Arrested by New Jersey police on another charge and held in custody for three days, Harvey had been advised of his rights - to remain silent and be represented by an attorney - on eight separate occasions during a 56-hour period, including a reminder just 41/2 hours before his confession.
Interrupting an interrogation session to meet with his father, Harvey returned, resumed the session and confessed to the murder. However, when taken to the prosecutor's office for a formal confession, Harvey demanded an attorney and made no further statement.
The ruling upheld an earlier decision by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, which found the confession inadmissible. The state's highest court held that the eight warnings did not release investigators from their obligation to read Harvey his rights after the terminated interrogation had been resumed.
The ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court can be seen as judicial hair-splitting - could police be facing a future where they are forced to read suspects their Miranda rights every hour on the hour? Or start every question with a Miranda-rights reminder?
Rather than saddle police with the timetable-type obligations in reading one's rights, perhaps the judicial system should reconsider the statement by New Jersey officials in their appeal of the nullified conviction.
"Something is fundamentally wrong," they wrote, "when eight complete recitations of Miranda warnings, two more reminders by police officers, and two explanations by judges at arraignments of the rights to counsel and the right to silence have been deemed as a matter of law insufficient (for Harvey) to know and assess his constitutional right."