The Supreme Court has overturned a long-standing ruling that stops police from initiating questions unless a defendant's lawyer is present, a move that will make it easier for prosecutors to interrogate suspects.
The high court, in a 5-4 ruling, overturned the 1986 Michigan v. Jackson ruling, which said police may not initiate questioning of a defendant who has a lawyer or has asked for one unless the attorney is present.
The Michigan ruling applied even to defendants who agree to talk to the authorities without their lawyers.
The court's conservatives overturned that opinion Tuesday, with Justice Antonin Scalia saying "it was poorly reasoned, has created no significant reliance interests and (as we have described) is ultimately unworkable."
Scalia, who read the opinion from the bench, said their decision will have a "minimal" effects on criminal defendants. "Because of the protections created by this court in Miranda and related cases, there is little if any chance that a defendant will be badgered into waiving his right to have counsel present during interrogation," Scalia said.
The Michigan v. Jackson opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the only current justice who was on the court at the time. He dissented from the ruling, and in an unusual move read his dissent aloud from the bench. It was the first time this term a justice had read a dissent aloud.
"The police interrogation in this case clearly violated petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to counsel," Stevens said. Overruling the Jackson case, he said, "can only diminish the public's confidence in the reliability and fairness of our system of justice."