Some constitutional scholars say a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week fundamentally undermines the rights of criminal defendants being interrogated by police. But the man who trains police in Madison doesn't expect it to have much effect.
"I do not see this as a major erosion in defendants' rights," says Sgt. Mike Koval, "nor do I believe it puts the cops at a distinct advantage that they did not realize before."
The court ruled that a suspect being interrogated must affirmatively invoke his right to remain silent. Merely remaining silent when advised of this option does not mean police must stop asking questions intended to elicit incriminating statements.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in sharp dissent, wrote that the ruling "turns Miranda upside down," in that suspects must now speak to invoke their right to remain silent and "will be presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so."
But Koval, a lawyer by training, does not foresee significant change in how Madison police will conduct interrogations. "This ruling does provide a brighter line, operationally, but I will still urge a cautious approach" regarding the reading of rights to suspects in custody.
He notes that the court's latest ruling is similar to one in 1994 where it held that suspects must unambiguously invoke their right to an attorney. He notes brightly - as does many a criminal defense lawyer with a shake of the head - that no matter what suspects are told, most will waive their rights and incriminate themselves anyway.
"It's been estimated," says Koval, "that about 75% of suspects routinely waive their Miranda rights and talk to the police."