New Miranda limits draw mixed legal reactions
Web posted at: 12:05 a.m. EST (0505 GMT)
RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- Voluntary confessions from criminal suspects who did not get a Miranda warning will no longer be automatically kicked out of court because of a new ruling this week by a federal appeals court.
"This means that crime victims and their families are no longer going to be frustrated by a system where the criminal gets off on a technical violation of the Miranda decision," said Shawn Gunnerson of the Washington Legal Foundation.
But critics fear the new ruling that allows prosecutors to bypass the Supreme Court's landmark Miranda decision against self-incrimination will lead to police abuse.
"The Supreme Court felt that these warnings were critical in order to ensure the confessions are truly voluntary and not coerced," said David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center. "And now what the 4th Circuit has said is, we don't need these warnings. And I think what that will lead to is more coerced confessions."
The Supreme Court ruling in Miranda vs. Arizona said police must tell criminal suspects they have the right to remain silent and the right to have a lawyer present, and that anything they say can be used against them in court.
In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday that a 1968 federal law on voluntary confessions takes precedence over the 1966 Miranda ruling in federal cases. The decision makes voluntary confessions admissible, even if the suspect talked before he received a Miranda warning.
The new ruling stems from the case of a man arrested for the January 24, 1997 robbery of a Virginia bank.
Suspect Charles Thomas Dickerson told the FBI and local police that he had driven the getaway car in a series of bank heists in Virginia and Maryland.
He made the confession after being told FBI agents were about to enter the apartment where he had left a handgun, dye-stained money, masks and latex gloves. Dickerson also named his accomplice, who promptly admitted the two men had robbed 18 banks in three states.
During Dickerson's trial, a federal district judge suppressed the confession as evidence, ruling Dickerson's Miranda rights had been violated, even though his confession was given voluntarily and did not violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Local law enforcement said such cases occur with frustrating regularity.
"The Miranda rule has degenerated into being a set of magic words," said Arlington County Police Chief Edward Flynn. "And when we get to trial, it's not so important that the suspect confessed voluntarily, but whether or not those words were said at the right time."
Monday's appeals court ruling applies only in the circuit's five states: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. And it covers only federal law enforcement officers.
The case is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court where Miranda was instituted and could now be scaled back.
Reporter Kathleen Koch and Reuters contributed to this report.
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