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Supreme Court's new limit on Miranda rights
Chipping away at civil liberties

By Eric Ruder | June 6, 2003 | Page 2

THE U.S. Supreme Court last week gave police a green light to demand answers from potential defendants--even before they've been informed of their Constitutional rights. In 1997, police shot Oliverio Martinez--an Oxnard, Calif., farmworker--five times in the face, legs and back.

As he lay gravely wounded in a hospital bed, a police sergeant proceeded to interrogate him, despite his cries of pain and pleas to be left alone. But according to a 6-to-3 Supreme Court ruling, the failure of police to inform Martinez of his "Miranda" rights wasn't a constitutional violation--since he was never forced to testify against himself in court.

"I'm choking," Martinez told the interrogating officer. "I'm dying, please."

"If you're going to die," snapped the officer, "tell me what happened."

The shooting left Martinez blind and paralyzed, but he was never charged with a crime. Writing for the three-judge minority, Justice John Paul Stevens characterized the interrogation as "an attempt to obtain an involuntary confession from a prisoner by torturous methods."

But Clarence Thomas--one of the court's right-wing zealots--was more concerned with the "success of the investigation" than the possibility of torture. He said that a coercive interrogation was justified by the "urgent" circumstances. After all, according to Thomas, there was a "risk that key evidence would have been lost if Martinez had died without the authorities ever hearing his side of the story."

In court, the Oxnard police department based its defense on the claim that suspects don't have a "constitutional right to be free of coercive interrogation," only the right not to have such a confession used at trial.

Predictably, the Bush administration filed a brief expressing its support for the police. And a majority of the justices backed up the cops' "interpretation" of Miranda rights. This ruling represents another step in chipping away of our civil liberties.

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