In our increasingly litigious society we seem determined to tempt fate by placing our faith in the wisdom of those who run our court system. But that might not always be such good idea; there’s a lot of wacky shit going on behind the judge’s bench. One example: last week in Findlay, Ohio, a Hancock County Probate Court Judge ruled that a living man was legally dead. And told him so, to his face.
The supposedly-deceased plaintiff was in court hoping to reverse a 1994 ruling that declared him legally dead, in absentia, after he vanished from his home eight years earlier. But the judge rejected the request, citing a pre-existing three-year time limit for reversing a death ruling. So despite the fact that the supposedly-dead individual was sitting in the courtroom and appeared to be in good health, the three-year limit was clear… therefore, the deceased must remain deceased (at least as far as the law is concerned).
It gets worse: the dead guy wanted to reverse the death ruling so he could renew his (long expired) driver’s license and reinstate his Social Security number. But his ex-wife legally opposed the attempt, because should her former spouse turn out to be alive, she might have to repay his mistakenly-awarded Social Security benefits, dutifully paid out to his “widow” and the couple’s two children after daddy’s supposed demise.
If that weren’t bad enough, last summer the Supreme Court essentially revoked everyone’s Miranda Right to Remain Silent. In a little-noticed case called Salinas v. Texas, the Supreme Court held that anyone questioned by the police remains silent at their own peril, even BEFORE being arrested, when the police are just informally asking the kind of high-pressure questions that can elicit false confessions.
In the past, a citizen’s Fifth Amendment rights have always been upheld by the Supreme Court; prosecutors aren’t allowed to use a defendant’s refusal to answer the state’s questions as an implication of guilt. Not any more, it seems. Supreme Court Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia now seem to support the position that Fifth Amendment rights don’t come into play unless the questioned individual “ASSERTS his right to remain silent.” Somehow, without a lawyer, and without being advised of his rights, questionees must affirmatively “invoke” that right. Unless they do so, that right apparently doesn’t exist.
What? Thomas and Scalia even suggested that before being arrested and read the Miranda, a suspect has “no rights at all” to invoke. So…people have to somehow invoke the right to remain silent even when they’re not formal suspects and they haven’t heard the Miranda warnings?
The court’s ruling is scary because it is precisely during such informal, undocumented, and unregulated questioning that police may (intentionally or not) coax false confessions from innocent suspects. But if a questionee doesn’t answer, police and prosecutors are apparently now allowed to present evidence of that silence as an indication of guilt.
The Fifth Amendment precludes self-incrimination. But according to our current SCOTUS, our rights as citizens now apparently take a back seat to chasing convictions based on hearsay— or, rather, on “no-say.”
Why aren’t the Libertarians up in arms about this? One of those “Don’t Tread On Me” flags sure would come in handy right about now, methinks.