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MIRANDA ON TRIAL
SUPREME COURT SHOULD NOT WATER DOWN CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS

The Supreme Court has decided to take on what is considered a staple of American justice by reviewing Miranda warnings. The warning that begins with, "You have the right to remain silent . . ." is about as well-known as anything woven into our legal culture. More important, it provides assurances that the constitutional rights of Americans are protected. There is no reason it should be diluted.

The Miranda warning was named for a defendant in a landmark 1966 case and was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2000. It ensures that police notify suspects of their rights under the Constitution, such as the right to a lawyer, the right to remain silent and the obligation of the state to provide a lawyer if the accused can't afford one.

Lately, some law enforcement officers have been taking liberties with the warning. For example, police have begun to use a strategy where they question a suspect twice, the first time without reading him the Miranda warning. Some suspects confess before they realize they have a right to remain silent.

The courts must be careful not to allow this basic tenet of American justice to be watered down. John Elmore, former president of the Minority Bar Association and a former New York State trooper, prosecutor and current defense attorney, said when people are in trouble and afraid, they tend to want to please the interviewer and, for that reason, tend to give false confessions. Sometimes people simply are unaware of their rights.

Five young men convicted of attacking a jogger in Central Park in 1989 were cleared last year because of a jailhouse confession from the actual rapist and the use of DNA evidence. The police had elicited false statements from the teens. That, and other similar cases, amply demonstrate why constitutional protections are needed.

The vast majority of police officers are dedicated professionals, and they have had no problem doing their jobs and reducing the crime rate in many cities, all while operating within the constraints of Miranda. Everyone wants to feel secure. But security at the cost of civil liberties is a bad bargain.

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