Thursday, February 25, 2010

Supreme Court: Miranda Warnings Need Not Be Precise

The U.S. Supreme Court made an important decision this week regarding the precision required for Miranda warnings. Kevin Powell was arrested in 2004 by Tampa, Florida Police. He was taken into custody after a gun was found at this girlfriend’s apartment. Powell was prohibited from possessing a firearm due to his history of felony convictions. After he was told by police that he had, “The right to a lawyer before answering any of our questions,” he confessed to having the gun.

Powell successfully had his confession suppressed by the trial court and the appellant courts agreed. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, Florida v. Powell, No. 08-1175 (2010). In an opinion written for a 7-2 majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “The four warnings Miranda requires are invariable, but this court has not dictated the words in which the essential information must be conveyed.”

Justice Ginsburg went on to write that a police officer’s warnings need not have the precision of a legal document, “But we decline to declare its precise formulation necessary to meet Miranda’s requirements.”

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