Friday, February 24, 2012

Prison Inmates Don't Have Rights

Er, sorry, that should read "Prison Inmates Don't Have to be Read Rights":

The Supreme Court said Tuesday investigators don’t have to read Miranda rights to inmates during jailhouse interrogations about crimes unrelated to their current incarceration.

The high court, on a 6-3 vote, overturned a federal appeals court decision throwing out prison inmate Randall Lee Fields’ conviction, saying Fields was not in “custody” as defined by Miranda and therefore did not have to have his rights read to him.

“Imprisonment alone is not enough to create a custodial situation within the meaning of Miranda,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

That's got to the first time, with a straight face, I've ever seen someone argue that a prisoner is not in a "custodial situation" for purposes of Miranda. Alito laughs off the contradiction by saying that the defendant, who had been brought from his cell by two armed guards "was told that he was free to leave and return to his cell."

Which is a custodial situation, right? Wrong.

Questioning an inmate doesn’t bring the “shock” of arrest that free people experience and the coercive pressure that follows, Alito said. There is also no hope for a quick release if the inmate talks to police, like there would be for a free person, and there is also no chance of a lighter sentence or any type of reprisal for not talking because the person is already in prison, Alito said.

LOL. I almost thought this was a joke when I first read it, but the majority seems to have drank some sort of kool-aid regarding the non-custodial environment of imprisonment. It's like a 19th century opinion from the court: if you're in prison, you have no standing under the Constitution.

I'll let the dissenters (written by Ginsburg, joined by Breyer and Sotomayor) speak for me.

I would not train, as the Court does, on the question whether there can be custody within custody. Instead, I would ask, as Miranda put it,whether Fields was subjected to “incommunicado interrogation . . . in a police-dominated atmosphere,” whether he was placed, against his will, in an inherently stressful situation, and whether his “freedom of action [was] curtailed in any significant way,” id.. Those should be the key questions, and to each I would answer “Yes.”

This grotesque case is Howes v. Fields (2012)

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