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Berghuis v. Thompkins


A police investigation into a shooting pointed to two suspects, one of whom was the defendant. Once arrested, officers advised the defendant of his Miranda rights and received his verbal confirmation of his understanding. The defendant refused to sign a form stating he acknowledged those rights. Over the course of the interrogation, the defendant was largely silent, answering only a few questions either non-verbally or with simple statements such as “yeah,” “no,” or “I don’t know.” After nearly three hours, an officer tried what he called a “different tack.” After asking the defendant whether he believed in and prayed to God, the officer asked whether the defendant had asked God for forgiveness for “shooting that boy down.” The defendant replied, “Yes.” This statement was used against him at trial.


Whether a defendant’s Miranda right to silence is violated when, after being advised of his Miranda rights, police continue to question him for three hours while he remains silent and ultimately obtain an incriminating statement from him?


No. A suspect who receives and understands Miranda warnings, and fails to invoke his Miranda rights, waives his right to remain silent when offering an uncoerced statement to the police.


The Court examined the suspect’s waiver of his right to silence as well as what is required for an invocation of the right to remain silent. When a suspect engages in limited verbal communication with police but never explicitly invokes his right to silence, the Court concluded that he had not invoked his right to silence. In order to invoke the right to silence, the suspect must say so expressly and unambiguously. A suspect must give an unambiguous declaration of his intention to invoke his right to remain silent or he has not invoked such a right. The government still has the burden of proving a valid waiver. A valid waiver may be inferred from the facts that the suspect received warnings, understood his rights and ultimately responded to government questioning.


560 U.S. 370, 130 S. Ct. 2250 (2010)

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