“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.”—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
We are witnessing the gradual dismantling of every constitutional principle that serves as a bulwark against government tyranny, overreach and abuse.
As usual, the latest assault comes from the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 6-3 ruling in Vega v. Tekoh, the Supreme Court took aim at the Miranda warnings, which require that police inform suspects that they have a right against self-incrimination when in police custody: namely, that they have a right to remain silent, to have an attorney present, and that anything they say and do can and will be used against them in a court of law.
Although the Supreme Court stopped short of overturning its 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, the conservative majority declared that individuals cannot hold police accountable for violating their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
By shielding police from lawsuits arising from their failure to Mirandize suspects, the Supreme Court has sent a message to police that they no longer have to respect a suspect’s right to remain silent.
In other words, concludes legal analyst Nick Sibilla, “the Supreme Court has effectively created a new legal immunity for cops accused of infringing on the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.”
Why is this important?
In totality, the rights enshrined in the Fifth Amendment speak to the Founders’ determination to protect the rights of the individual against a government with a natural inclination towards corruption, tyranny and thuggery.
The Founders were especially concerned with balancing the scales of justice in such a way that the innocent and the accused were not railroaded and browbeaten by government agents into coerced confessions, false convictions, or sham trials.
Indeed, so determined were the Founders to safeguard the rights of the innocent, even if it meant allowing a guilty person to go free, that Benjamin Franklin insisted, “It is better a hundred guilty persons should escape than one innocent person should suffer.”
Two hundred-plus years later, the Supreme Court (aided and abetted by the police state, Congress and Corporate America) has flipped that longstanding presumption of innocence on its head.
In our present suspect society, “we the people” are all presumed guilty until proven innocent.
With the Vega ruling, we have even fewer defenses for warding off government chicanery, abuse, threats and entrapment.
To be clear, the Supreme Court is not saying that we don’t have the right to remain silent when in police custody. It’s merely saying that we can’t sue the police for violating that right.
It’s a subtle difference but a significant one that could well encourage police to engage in the very sort of egregious misconduct at the heart of the Vega case: in which a police officer investigating a sexual assault isolated a suspect in a small, windowless room; refused him access to a lawyer or work colleagues; accused him of molesting a female patient; threatened him with violence; implied that he and his family would be deported; and terrorized him into signing a false confession dictated by the cop.