U.S. Supreme Court Weakens Miranda Warning
Feb. 22, 2010
The U.S. Supreme Court this week sided with the Tampa Police Department over a disputed Miranda rights form, a decision likely to benefit the state in some high-profile prosecutions, including a notorious sex torture case.
The high court’s 7-2 ruling reinstated the conviction of 10-time felon Kevin DeWayne Powell, which had been set aside by the Florida Supreme Court.
Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the department is pleased with the ruling.
“Of course we always want to ensure a suspect’s constitutional rights are protected,” she said. “We will continue to uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens.”
When police interrogated Powell in a 2004 weapons case, they read him his rights using a Miranda form that had been a department standard for years. He confessed.
Powell was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His attorney appealed, saying the Miranda form was inadequate.
Although the form advised suspects they had a right to talk to a lawyer before questioning and a right to invoke any of their rights at any time, it did not say they had a right to have a lawyer present during questioning.
The defense won in a state appeals court and at the state high court, which said the form’s wording did not meet the requirements of the Florida Constitution or the landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Miranda v. Arizona.
“The Miranda court unequivocally said that ‘an individual held for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation,’” the Florida Supreme Court wrote. Thus, “the right ‘to talk to a lawyer before answering any … questions’ constitutes a narrower less functional warning than that required by Miranda.”
The U.S. high court disagreed.
“Although the warnings were not the clearest possible formulation of Miranda’s right-to-counsel advisement, they were sufficiently comprehensive and comprehensible when given a common sense reading,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FLORIDA v. POWELL
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA
No. 08–1175. Argued December 7, 2009—Decided February 23, 2010
In a pathmarking decision, Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, 471, this Court held that an individual must be “clearly informed,” prior to custodial questioning, that he has, among other rights, “the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation.”After arresting respondent Powell, but before questioning him, Tampa Police read him their standard Miranda form, stating, inter alia: “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions” and “[y]ou have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.” Powell then admitted he owned a handgun found in a police search. He was charged with possession of a weapon by a convicted felon in violation of Florida law. The trial court denied Powell’s motion to suppress his inculpatory statements, which was based on the contention that the Miranda warnings he received did not adequately convey his right to the presence of an attorney during questioning. Powell was convicted of the gun-possession charge, but the intermediate appellate court held that the trial court should have suppressed the statements. The Florida Supreme Court agreed. It noted that both Miranda and the State Constitution require that a suspect be clearly informed of the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. The advice Powell received was misleading, the court believed, because it suggested that he could consult with an attorney only before the police started to question him and did not convey his entitlement to counsel’s presence throughout the interrogation.
1. This Court has jurisdiction to hear this case. Powell contends that jurisdiction is lacking because the Florida Supreme Court relied on the State’s Constitution as well as Miranda, hence the decision 2 FLORIDA v. POWELL
rested on an adequate and independent state ground. See Coleman
v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722, 729. Under Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032, 1040–1041, however, when a state court decision fairly appears to rest primarily on federal law, or to be interwoven with federal law,and the adequacy and independence of any possible state-law ground is not clear from the face of its opinion, this Court presumes that federal law controlled the state court’s decision. Although invoking Florida’s Constitution and precedent in addition to this Court’s decisions, the Florida court did not expressly assert that state-law sources gave Powell rights distinct from, or broader than, those delineated in Miranda. See Long, 463 U. S., at 1044. The state-court opinion consistently trained on what Miranda demands, rather than on what Florida law independently requires. This Court therefore cannot identify, “from the face of the opinion,” a clear statement that the decision rested on a state ground separate from Miranda. See Long, 463 U. S., at 1041. Because the opinion does not “indicat[e] clearly and expressly that it is alternatively based on bona fide separate, adequate, and independent [state] grounds,” Long, 463 U. S., at 1041, this Court has jurisdiction. Pp. 4–7.
2. Advice that a suspect has “the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of [the law enforcement officers’] questions,” and that he can invoke this right “at any time . . . during th[e] interview,” satisfies Miranda. Pp. 7–13.
(a) Miranda requires that a suspect “be warned prior to any questioning . . . that he has the right to the presence of an attorney.” 384 U. S., at 479. This Miranda warning addresses the Court’s particular concern that “[t]he circumstances surrounding in-custody interrogation can operate very quickly to overbear the will of one merely made aware of his privilege [to remain silent] by his interrogators.” Id., at 469. Responsive to that concern, the Court stated, as“an absolute prerequisite to interrogation,” that an individual held for questioning “must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation.” Id., at 471. While the warnings prescribed by Miranda are invariable, this Court has not dictated the words in which the essential information must be conveyed. See, e.g., California v. Prysock, 453 U. S. 355, 359. In determining whether police warnings were satisfactory, reviewing courts are not required to “examine [them] as if construing a will or defining the terms of an easement. The inquiry is simply whether the warnings reasonably ‘conve[y] to [a suspect] his rights as required by Miranda.’ ” Duckworth v. Eagan, 492 U. S. 195, 203. Pp. 7–9.
(b) The warnings Powell received satisfy this standard. By informing Powell that he had “the right to talk to a lawyer before an
3 Cite as: 559 U. S. ____ (2010)
swering any of [their] questions,” the Tampa officers communicated that he could consult with a lawyer before answering any particular question. And the statement that Powell had “the right to use any of [his] rights at any time [he] want[ed] during th[e] interview” confirmed that he could exercise his right to an attorney while the interrogation was underway. In combination, the two warnings reasonably conveyed the right to have an attorney present, not only at the outset of interrogation, but at all times. To reach the opposite conclusion, i.e., that the attorney would not be present throughout the interrogation, the suspect would have to imagine the counterintuitive and unlikely scenario that, in order to consult counsel, he would be obliged to exit and reenter the interrogation room between each query. Likewise unavailing is the Florida Supreme Court’s conclusion that the warning was misleading because the temporal language that Powell could “talk to a lawyer before answering any of [the officers’] questions” suggested he could consult with an attorney only before the interrogation started. In context, the term “before” merely conveyed that Powell’s right to an attorney became effective before he answered any questions at all. Nothing in the words used indicated that counsel’s presence would be restricted after the questioning commenced. Powell suggests that today’s holding will tempt law enforcement agencies to end-run Miranda by amending their warnings to introduce ambiguity. But, as the Federal Government explains, it is in law enforcement’s own interest to state warnings with maximum clarity in order to reduce the risk that a court will later find the advice inadequate and therefore suppress a suspect’s statement. The standard warnings used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are admirably informative, but the Court declines to declare their precise formulation necessary to meet Miranda’s requirements. Different words were used in the advice Powell received, but they communicated the same message. Pp. 9–13.
998 So. 2d 531, reversed and remanded.
GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined, and in which BREYER, J., joined as to Part II. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, J., joined as to Part II. _________________