(CN) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a convicted felon’s challenge of how Tampa officers read him his Miranda rights before he was convicted on a gun-possession charge. He argued that the officers’ wording had been misleading.
While investigating a robbery, Tampa police found a loaded 9 mm handgun under the bed in Kevin Dewayne Powell’s girlfriend’s apartment. They took him in for questioning and read him his Miranda rights.
“You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions,” one officer read. “You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during the interview.”
Powell then admitted that he owned the handgun, even though he was previously convicted of a felony. He was charged with illegal gun possession.
Powell moved to suppress his statement during interrogation, claiming the Miranda statement didn’t adequately convey his right to have an attorney present with him during questioning.
The trial court rejected his motion, and a jury convicted him.
Powell fared better on appeal, with the state appeals court and the Florida Supreme Court ruling that the Miranda reading was inadequate. The state high court said the advice was misleading, because it suggested that Powell could “only consult with an attorney before questioning,” not during.
The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. “[T]his court has not dictated the words in which the essential information must be conveyed,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote.
The justices pointed out that Powell had been advised that he could talk to a lawyer before answering questions, and that he could exercise that right at any point.
“In combination, the two warnings reasonably conveyed Powell’s right to have an attorney present, not only at the outset of interrogation, but at all times,” Ginsburg wrote.
“Although the warnings were not the clearest possible formulation of Miranda‘s right-to-counsel advisement, they were sufficiently comprehensive and comprehensible when given a commonsense reading,” she added (original emphasis).
Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, saying the high court’s jurisdiction was “doubtful at best,” and the Miranda reading “entirely omitted an essential element of a suspect’s rights.”
Justice Stephen Breyer joined the dissent in part, agreeing with Stevens that the Miranda reading fell short.