WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court yesterday approved Florida’s version of the well-known Miranda rights warning, despite complaints that it wasn’t clear a suspect could have a lawyer present during questioning.
The court’s 7-2 decision restoring Kevin Dwayne Powell’s conviction is the first of several it will make this year clarifying what the long-established Miranda rights require police to do.
Powell was convicted of illegally possessing a firearm after telling police he bought the weapon “off the street.’’ Before his confession, Powell signed a Miranda statement that included the words, “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.’’
The Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction, saying police did not explicitly tell him he had a right to a lawyer during his police interrogation.
But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court’s majority, said Powell was given enough information.
“Nothing in the words used indicated that counsel’s presence would be restricted after the questioning commenced,’’ Ginsburg said. “Instead, the warning communicated that the right to counsel carried forward to and through the interrogation.’’
Justice John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer disagreed with the majority’s reasoning. Stevens wrote that the Florida warning “did not reasonably convey the right to talk to a lawyer after answering some questions.’’