Local cops react to court's revisiting Miranda warning

December 07, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Word that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether police still must warn criminal suspects they have a right to remain silent and to get a lawyer's help has drawn mixed reaction from area law enforcement officers.

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The Supreme Court Monday said it would rule by summer on whether Congress in 1968 effectively overturned its 1966 Miranda ruling, intended to prevent police from coercing confessions from suspects.

Failure to inform a suspect of the rights outlined in the Miranda ruling prior to questioning can result in evidence such as a confession or some incriminating statement being lost to prosecutors.

Earlier this year, the conservative 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a long-ignored 1968 federal law known as Section 3501 means failure to issue Miranda warnings no longer requires automatic exclusion of evidence in federal prosecutions. The appeals court's rationale would apply to state prosecutions as well.


Hagerstown City Police Captain Robert Hart said if the Miranda decision were overturned suspects would still have rights under the law.

He said he believes the Miranda law should be modified and isn't likely to be thrown out completely.

"It would be a step in the right direction," said Hart.

Hancock Police Chief Donald Gossage said he supports a modification of the Miranda law but not its elimination.

"The federal law is a little restrictive," he said.

Gossage said, however, that the Miranda requirement prevents officers from cutting corners.

"It makes them do the right thing," Gossage said.

Gossage said he believes many courts already weigh other factors when deciding whether or not to throw out a confession.

No matter what happens, Hancock's police department will continue to give Miranda warnings to suspects taken into custody, he said.

"It won't affect the way we do business," said Gossage.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, Maryland State Police will adapt, according to Capt. Greg Shipley, public information officer.

"Our position is that we follow the law and procedures," he said.

It might be easier to obtain confessions from suspects if they're not informed of their rights, but overturning the Miranda ruling wouldn't necessarily be a good thing, said Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long.

"A suspect might be more willing to give a confession if they think they have to talk to the police. But the Miranda warning was done as a result of police abuses and we all want to be sure police would not abuse their authority," said Long.

Lewis Metzner of the Hagerstown Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said he has concerns about overturning Miranda and potential mistreatment of suspects.

"It's a step backward to a different time," he said.

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