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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘I Plead The Fifth’ Is Not Ambiguous, Court Rules

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - "I plead the Fifth" is not an ambiguous statement allowing cops to continue questioning a suspect, the full 9th Circuit ruled, reversing a state court and panel ruling upholding a murder conviction based on statements made after the suspect asked for the right to remain silent.

"From television shows like 'Law & Order' to movies such as 'Guys and Dolls,' we are steeped in the culture that knows a person in custody has 'the right to remain silent,'" Judge McKeown wrote. "Miranda is practically a household word. And surely, when a criminal defendant says, 'I plead the Fifth,' it doesn't take a trained linguist, a Ph.D. or a lawyer to know what he means."

The court reversed the murder conviction of Anderson, who claimed the statements after he asked to remain silent were used to incriminate him.

When Anderson told an officer, "I plead the Fifth," the officer asked, "Plead the Fifth? What's that?" and then continued to question Anderson, ultimately drawing a confession.

In doing so, the cop "violated the Supreme Court's bright-line rule established in Miranda," McKeown wrote. "Once a person invokes the right to remain silent, all questioning must cease."

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