Originally created 02/17/99

Aiken to keep using Miranda reading



AIKEN -- While criminal suspects may have the right to remain silent, a federal court ruling questions whether police have to tell them that.

But two Aiken County law enforcement agencies say the decision last week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals will not change their use of the 30-year-old Miranda warning, a statement routinely used in police dramas on television and the big screen.

The federal panel, in a 2-1 decision, said factors besides whether officers gave the warning can be used to determine whether a suspect voluntarily gave a statement and whether it is admissible in court.

The Aiken County Sheriff's Office and the Aiken Department of Public Safety will continue using the warning, which tells suspects they have the right to remain silent and the right to get the advice of an attorney before answering questions.

The public safety department refers to the Miranda warning in its policies, requiring it when an officer plans to ask a suspect specific questions about a crime, Detective Wendell Hall said.

If someone blurts out a confession that wasn't coerced, the statement is allowed in court regardless of whether the warning was given, sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank said.

"A man walks up and says, `My wife and I just had an argument, and I just beat her up.' That is completely out of the blue. What you have just made to a police officer is a spontaneous statement," Lt. Frank said. "Those statements are admissible in court."

The federal court's ruling, which is expected to be appealed to the full 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, affects the circuit's five states, including South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Aiken City Solicitor Richard Pearce said the ruling affects only suspects charged with federal crimes and should make no waves in most law enforcement agencies statewide. He said the decision does not change a suspect's rights.

"You certainly have a right to have an attorney, and you certainly have a right to remain silent. (The court is saying) you don't necessarily have a right to have your rights read to you," Mr. Pearce said.

The Miranda warning was instituted in 1966 after a Supreme Court decision in Miranda vs. Arizona said suspects must be told their rights or any confession cannot be used at trial.

Greg Rickabaugh covers police for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.