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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

En Banc Ninth Circuit Holds That When a Suspect in Custody Says "I Plead the [F]ifth," He Has Invoked His Miranda Right to Remain Silent

The en banc Ninth Circuit yesterday reversed a denial of habeas relief to a state prisoner convicted after his statements to police were admitted into evidence, where those statements were the result of an interogation during which he said, "I plead the [F]ifth."  The California Court of Appeals had determined that this apparent invocation of the right to remain silent was ambiguous inasmuch as it may have referred only to a single line of questioning regarding the suspect's drug use rather than the murder for which he ultimately was convicted.  That court also determined that the police officer's follow-up question -- "Plead the [F]ifth?  What's that?" -- was a legitimate clarifying question rather than an effort to "play dumb" and keep the suspect talking.  The Ninth Circuit held that the former conclusion was an unreasonable application of Miranda and the latter was an unreasonable determination of the facts.  You can read the opinion here. [Mike Mannheimer]

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