LOS ANGELES - The United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in Chavez v. Martinez, a case that raises the crucial question of whether the Miranda decision - perhaps the court's best known criminal justice ruling - truly guarantees the 'right to remain silent.'
'For most Americans, the right to remain silent is one of the most basic tenets of our justice system; it is our hope that the court recognizes it as such,' said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and author of a friend-of-the-court brief filed in today's case on behalf of the ACLU and California Attorneys for Criminal Justice.
The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with Martinez and held that the questioning violated Martinez's rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
'For four decades, the Supreme Court has made clear that police officers must give Miranda warnings to criminal suspects, and that if suspects invoke their right to silence or to an attorney, all further questioning must cease,' said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU/SC. 'Nevertheless, around the country, police officers are being trained to ignore Miranda, and to continue questioning suspects even after they have asked for lawyers or invoked their right to silence.'
On November 28, 1997, Olivero Martinez was riding a bicycle down a vacant lot in Oxnard, California. Oxnard police officers were in the area, investigating narcotics activity. When Martinez approached the lot, the officers asked him to dismount, spread his legs, and place his hands behind his head. Martinez complied. When police officers searched him, they found a knife that Martinez used to cut strawberries for his work as a farm worker. Police officers contend that Martinez pulled away as he was being handcuffed, and he was then tackled to the ground, where a struggle ensued.
The police officers further maintain that Martinez attempted to grab one of the officers' guns; Martinez claims he was trying to prevent the officer from pulling out his gun. Martinez was shot five times by police. One bullet struck him in the face, leaving him blind, and another fractured a vertebra, paralyzing his legs. The other three bullets tore through his leg around the knee joint. Martinez was handcuffed until the paramedics arrived at the scene.
Martinez was then placed in an ambulance, and one officer, Ben Chavez, rode with him to the hospital. As Martinez lay in agony, officer Chavez peppered him with questions regarding the arrest and shooting. Martinez repeatedly complained that he was in excruciating pain, that he was choking, could not move his legs, was dying, and did not wish to speak anymore. Officer Chavez pressed on, and continued to ask questions, while medical personnel treated Martinez for his life-threatening injuries. Only after Martinez was removed from the emergency room did the questioning stop.
To read the ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief go to: http://archive.aclu.org/court/chavez.pdf