A lot of talk about remaining silent

Regina Budden / Bill of Rights

Picture: a college party. Things get crazy, and a young man feels up a young woman. She asks him to stop, but doesn’t say why, and he continues to grope her until he’s bored and then walks away. Can she still sue for sexual harassment? I don’t know, she didn’t tell him that she has the legal right to expect people to keep their hands off of her…

OK, so this illustration may be a bit extreme, but it is reflective of a new Supreme Court ruling. The new interpretation of the Miranda Rights means that, if arrested, we can’t expect to use our “right to remain silent” unless we specifically state that the reason we are remaining silent is because we are invoking our Fifth Amendment rights.

Now, given that people who are arrested already have to ask for their lawyer and phone call, it’s not an illogical jump to extend that to their other rights. But whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? This sets the stage for people to be charged with the refusal to cooperate, or obstruction of justice—for using a right guaranteed by our constitutional amendments.

Aye, there’s the rub. For from this new court ruling, what other heinous rights violations may come? If arrested citizens have to state that they are invoking the right to not self-incriminate, will they eventually have to state that they are invoking the right to due process and a fair, speedy trial by jury?

This infringement of rights sets a weighty precedent. If this pattern were to continue, eventually the citizens of the United States would have to declare what their rights are every time someone wanted to step on them. Excuse me, Uncle Sam, I don’t want to undergo cruel and unusual punishment because of the Eighth Amendment.

One of the things that set the young United States’ government apart from the others’ of the day was that it included a system of checks and balances. The Bill of Rights was part of that, and every American history class that I have ever taken makes it clear that the first 10 amendments were explicitly designed to both protect the rights of the people and limit the reach of the government’s arm.

But now, apparently, the government’s arm can reach wherever it wants until someone objects and invokes specifically the rights they have that are being violated.

And yes, it’s easy to say that the majority of the innocent, law-abiding citizens of America will not lose sleep over this. But next time they speed, do a favor for a shady friend, buy a beer for a girl who looks over 21 or just get themselves in a pants-down-at-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time situation, I hope they remember that their rights are not implicit, and that they can no longer be silent about their silence.

This rant against political institutions has been brought to you by Regina Budden and her First Amendment rights.