Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370 (Jun. 1, 2010)

The defendant was arrested in connection with a shooting that left one victim dead and another injured. At the start of their interrogation of the defendant, officers presented him with a written notification of his constitutional rights, which contained Miranda warnings. During the three-hour interrogation, the defendant never said that he wanted to remain silent, did not want to talk with the police, or he wanted a lawyer. Although he was largely silent, he gave a limited number of verbal answers, such as “yeah,” “no,” and “I don’t know,” and on occasion he responded by nodding his head. After two hours and forty-five minutes, the defendant was asked whether he believed in God and whether he prayed to God. When he answered in the affirmative, he was asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” The defendant answered “yes,” and the interrogation ended shortly thereafter. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that his answers to the officers’ questions were inadmissible because he had invoked his privilege to remain silent by not saying anything for a sufficient period of time such that the interrogation should have ceased before he made his inculpatory statements. Noting that in order to invoke the Miranda right to counsel, a defendant must do so unambiguously, the Court determined that there is no reason to adopt a different standard for determining when an accused has invoked the Miranda right to remain silent. It held that in the case before it, the defendant’s silence did not constitute an invocation of the right to remain silent. The Court went on to hold that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to remain silent when he answered the officers’ questions. The Court clarified that a waiver may be implied through the defendant’s silence, coupled with an understanding of rights, and a course of conduct indicating waiver. In this case, the Court concluded that there was no basis to find that the defendant did not understand his rights, his answer to the question about praying to God for forgiveness for the shooting was a course of conduct indicating waiver, and there was no evidence that his statement was coerced. Finally, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the police were not allowed to question him until they first obtained a waiver as inconsistent with the rule that a waiver can be inferred from the actions and words of the person interrogated.