Berghuis, Warden v  Thompkins


The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a habeas corpus proceeding challenging a Michigan conviction for first-degree murder and certain other offenses, ruled that there had been two separate constitutional errors in the trial that led to the jury’s guilty verdict. First, the Court of Appeals determined that a statement by the accused, relied on at trial by the prosecution, had been elicited in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384U. S. 436 (1966). Second, it found that failure to ask for an instruction relating to testimony from an accomplice was ineffective assistance by defense counsel.  Both of these contentions were rejected in Michigan courts and in the habeas corpus proceedings before the United States District Court. Certiorari was granted to review the decision by the Court of Appeals on both points.

Petitioner was the warden of a Michigan correctional facility  and respondent was a convict Van Chester Thompkins. Parties conceded that the warning given in this case was in full compliance with these requirements. The dispute centers on the response—or non response—from the suspect.

Thompkins made various arguments that his answers to questions from the detectives were inadmissible. He contended that he invoked his privilege  to remain silent by not saying anything for a sufficient period of time.

The Court had to decide whether an invocation of the right to remain silent can be ambiguous or equivocal. In  the context of invoking the Miranda right to counsel, the Supreme Court in Davis v. United States, 512 U. S. 452, 459 (1994), had held that a suspect must do so unambiguously. If an accused makes a statement concerning the right to counsel “that is ambiguous or equivocal” or makes no statement, the police were not required to end the interrogation, or ask questions to clarify whether the accused wants to invoke his or her Miranda rights.

It held that to require an accused who wants to invoke his or her right to remain silent had to do so unambiguously. If an ambiguous act, omission, or statement could require police to end the interrogation, police would be required to make difficult decisions about an accused’s unclear intent.  Suppression of a voluntary confession in these circumstances would place a significant burden on society’s interest in prosecuting criminal activity. Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk with the police. Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his right to cut off questioning. But as in this case he did neither, so he did not invoke his right to remain silent. Even absent the accused’s invocation of the right to remain silent, the accused’s statement during a custodial interrogation is inadmissible at trial unless the prosecution can establish that the accused in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived Miranda rights when making the statement. The waiver must be voluntary i.e. was the product of a free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception, and made with a full awareness of both the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it.

The main purpose of Miranda is to ensure that an accused is advised of and understands the right to remain silent and the right to counsel. The court after discussing Butler and Connely continued that the prosecution therefore does not need to show that a waiver of Miranda rights was express. An “implicit waiver” of the “right to remain silent” is sufficient to admit a suspect’s statement into evidence. If the State establishes that a Miranda warning was given and the accused made an uncoerced statement, this showing, standing alone, is insufficient to demonstrate “a valid waiver” of Miranda rights. The prosecution must make the additional showing that the accused understood those rights. Where the prosecution showed that a Miranda warning was given and that it was understood by the accused, an accused’s uncoerced statement established an implied waiver of the right to remain silent. As a general proposition, the law can presume that an individual who, with a full understanding of his or her rights, act in a manner inconsistent with their exercise has made a deliberate choice to relinquish the protection those rights afford. The record in the case showed that Thompkins waived his right to remain silent. There was no basis in the case to conclude that he did not understand his rights; and on those facts it followed that he chose not to invoke or rely on those rights when he did speak. There was more than enough evidence in the record to conclude that Thompkins understood his Miranda rights.

Second, Thompkins’s answer to Detective Helgert’s question about whether Thompkins prayed to God for forgiveness for shooting the victim was a “course of conduct indicating waiver” of the right to remain silent. If Thompkins wanted to remain silent, he could have said nothing in response to Helgert’s questions, or he could have unambiguously invoked his Miranda rights and ended the interrogation. The fact that Thompkins made a statement about three hours after receiving a Miranda warning did not overcome the fact that he engaged in a course of conduct indicating waiver. Police are not required to rewarn suspects from time to time. Thompkins’s answer to Helgert’s question about praying to God for forgiveness for shooting the victim was sufficient to show a course of conduct indicating waiver.

Thompkins next argued that, even if his answer to Detective Helgert could constitute a waiver of his right to remain silent, the police were not allowed to question him until they obtained a waiver first. The Butler Court held that courts can infer a waiver of Miranda rights “from the actions and words of the person interrogated.” The Miranda rule and its requirements are met if a suspect received adequate Miranda warnings, understood them, and had an opportunity to invoke the rights before giving any answers or admissions. Any waiver, express or implied, may be contradicted by an invocation at any time. If the right to counsel or the right to remain silent is invoked at any point during questioning, further interrogation must cease.

 On the question of whether Miranda rights have to be waived at the beginning, the court held that in order for an accused’s statement to be admissible at trial, police must have given the accused a Miranda warning. If that condition is established, the court can proceed to consider whether there has been an express or implied waiver of Miranda rights.  In making its ruling on the admissibility of a statement made during custodial questioning, the trial court, of course, considers whether there is evidence to support the conclusion that, from the whole course of questioning, an express or implied waiver has been established. Thus, after giving a Miranda warning, police may interrogate a suspect who had neither invoked nor waived his or her Miranda rights. On these premises, it followed the police were not required to obtain a waiver of Thompkins’s Miranda rights before commencing the interrogation.

In sum, a suspect who has received and understood the Miranda warnings, and had not invoked his Miranda rights, waives the right to remain silent by making an uncoerced statement to the police. Thompkins did not invoke his right to remain silent and stop the questioning. Understanding his rights in full, he waived his right to remain silent by making a voluntary statement to the police. The police, moreover, were not required to obtain a waiver of Thompkins’s right to remain silent before interrogating him. The state court’s decision rejecting Thompkins’s Miranda claim was thus correct under de novo review and therefore necessarily reasonable under the more deferential AEDPA standard of review

The second issue in the case was whether Thompkins’s counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to request a limiting instruction regarding how the jury could consider the outcome of Purifoy’s trial. To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show both deficient  performance and prejudice. To establish prejudice, a defendant must show that there was a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Further the Court expressed doubt that failure to request the instruction about the earlier acquittal or conviction was deficient representation; but on the assumption that it was, on the record Thompkins could not show prejudice. The record established that it was not reasonably likely that the instruction would have made any difference in light of all the other evidence of guilt. Under the de novo review of the record, Thompkins could not show prejudice. Thus the  judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed, and the case  remanded with instructions to deny the petition.