From the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that suspects must explicitly tell police they want to be silent to invoke Miranda protections during criminal interrogations, a decision one dissenting justice said turns defendants’ rights “upside down.”

A right to remain silent and a right to a lawyer are the first of the Miranda rights warnings, which police recite to suspects during arrests and interrogations. But the justices said in a 5-4 decision that suspects must tell police they are going to remain silent to stop an interrogation, just as they must tell police that they want a lawyer.

The specific case is about a man who remained silent for most of his interrogation, eventually confessed, and was convicted. In his appeal, the man said he was exercising his right to remain silent and that his statement given during the interrogation should be thrown out.

In her dissent, Sotomayor wrote that this decision “turns Miranda upside down.” And I admit, that was my first reaction, too.

But how did this case even get to the Supreme Court in the first place? It strikes me as completely laughable that someone can ask that a statement given during an interrogation be thrown out on the grounds that they didn’t talk for the first few minutes of being questioned. It should be as simple as: you have a right to remain silent, so long as you remain silent. That is, if you start talking, you’re no longer exercising that right.

Setting that aside, however, maybe the court’s decision isn’t that terrible. I think my initial reaction was out of worry that suspects may not know that they have to say something. But this ruling has the potential to clear up any ambiguity about the “remaining silent” clause. I was talking to a friend, and he noted that if the Miranda language were modified to include something along the lines of “you have to actively assert your right to remain silent,” it could be okay. Then cops, prosecutors, and suspects are all protected.

Update: tejanarusa in the comments says that Thompkins didn’t speak for 3 hours before answering several questions with one-word answers. Clearly he was worn down by the officers in the room. But I still think he waived his rights by answering, even though that was clearly a terrible situation the cops put him in.