Jackson vs. Michigan smacked down by Montejo v. Louisiana

A friend drew my attention to the fact that the Obama administration is urging the supreme court to overturn Jackson vs. Michigan.  I’m clearly missing some perspective on this because I don’t see the problem, but here’s what I know.

The 6th Amendment to the Constitution asserts that a defendent has a right to counsel. He may choose to represent himself or provide his own counsel if he has the resources to do so.  He’s entitled to public defense if he does not.  The Govt. can only deny these rights if it’s determined that the defendant is “incapable adequately of making his own defense because of ignorance, feeble mindedness, illiteracy, or the like, it is the duty of the court, whether requested or not, to assign counsel for him.”  So, in otherwords, if you want an attorney, you get one.

Michigan vs. Jackson appears to reiterate the same basic assertion as the 6th amendment.  The only difference that I can see is that it spells out the fact that if a defendant has requested counsel, they have a right to such counsel and may not be questioned without counsel under any circumstances unless the defendant has initiated the conversation on his or her own.  Essentially, you have a right to counsel and they can’t deny that.

The Obama Administration was pushing to overturn Michigan vs. Jackson, citing that it was simply “no longer necessary to protect the rights of suspects in police custody,” and that “the ruling is not needed “given the purposes of the Sixth Amendment and the existence of other strong protections against coercion.””  Now, I don’t know what “other strong protections” the Govt. brief is referring to here, but so far, I don’t see this court ruling providing any substantial clarification over what the 6th amendment already provides.

It seems that the Obama Administration has gotten its way as the ruling has, in fact, been overturned.  There’s an editorial by Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law, which seems to attempt to clarify why he believes that Jackson vs. Michigan was an important ruling that should not have been overturned.  His main argument is that Jackson is intertwined with cases related to the 5th Amendment, which address the Miranda rights of the accused.  However, these two amendments are intended to provide separate protections and one doesn’t completely cover for the other.

So, why did Obama do this and why is it a big deal? I guess I’m not well versed enough to answer those questions.  The underlying question is whether Jackson vs. Michigan provided some critical protection that is not available anywhere else.  From what I know, the 5th and 6th amendments, combined, offer all the protections that should be guaranteed under the law.  I don’t know what this ruling contributes to the amendments, so I can’t speak to whether or not it’s necessary.

If it’s an old, outmoded ruling, then there’s no harm in killing it off in this way and I don’t understand why everyone’s up in arms over it.  If, on the other hand, it provided a valuable fix to an otherwise incomplete or inaccurate 5th and 6th amendment, then why would Obama want to kill it. What does he gain from it? What is the flexibility he hopes to gain from the repeal of the case, and is it worth it to risk the rights of the accused.

I welcome your comments. It’s your chance to educate me if I’m missing some glaringly obvious point.


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