Right to Silence

“Right to Silence,” oils on 40 x 50 stretched canvas. 

This painting commemorates the upcoming 13 June, 2016, 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Fifth Amendment ruling in Miranda v. Arizona (1966). I’ve written previously about Miranda (in poetry, bloggery, and my Ph.D. dissertation). I’m still running a painting raffle to support Lauri Love—whose recent UK win against forced decryption furthers the right to silence.  

Dish. Your Miranda right—from a U.S. Constitutional law precedent establishing the right to remain silent and refrain from self-incrimination—is dead, along with your Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure. Formalized torture, due process-free assassination, and mass surveillance programs killed them years ago—if they were ever anything but aspirational to begin with. (And yes, Virginia, that goes for American citizens on American soil, too.) 

If it makes you feel any better, a cynical person might argue it was a crummy right anyway. Miranda rights come from the judicial collision of a rapist (Miranda) getting off while an imaginary friend (God) scared the ruling class into torturing less—but only because extracting confessions was His turf. 

Miranda was convicted of rape—twice. After the first trial, he got his conviction overturned on appeal. Police hadn’t advised him that he could remain silent. So the high court tossed Miranda’s confession. A new jury convicted him of rape again. (It was a good case. He left the ropes dangling in his car.) 

The right to remain silent that Miranda got reasserted in his infamous appeal stems from American and British legal backlash against torture in the context of the Brits’ Star Chamber. Even the Star Chamber didn’t have the authority to order torture in cases where the death penalty was on the table. The current U.S. regime goes farther. 

The argument against torture at the time of the Star Chamber was that the state cannot force you to confess, because you only owe your confessions to God. Godless Western societies no longer have that bright-line rationale for why torture is unacceptable. Of course, it’s against domestic and international law on paper. But in practice, the U.S. systematically fails to hold accountable law enforcement who torture Americans— and has formally threatened to invade any international criminal court that tries to call that bluff on U.S. officials, intelligence agents, or military servicepersons. (Some countries are trying it anyway, but only on small potatoes, so far.) 

So to summarize, your current U.S. Constitutional right to silence looks something like—

     Rapist + Imaginary friend – National security (terror zomgs so scary liquids SO SCARY no one knows what base rates are hahaha let’s fund fraudulent and abusive programs some more and fuck actual causes of death ZOMGS SHE SAID TERROR GETDOWNONTHEGROUND!!!elebenty) = Miranda rights.