Chicago's police force is notorious for its rough handling of suspects in interrogations. Just last month, the department settled a class-action lawsuit with 500,000 complainants who claimed that they were mistreated while in police custody. And the notorious police commander Jon Burge, accused of torturing hundreds of suspects with methods like electric shock, suffocation and burning, is currently standing trial.
But a Supreme Court ruling this week, in the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, will allow Chicago police more leeway in their interrogation tactics.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that simply being silent does not count as a suspect's invoking his or her Miranda right to remain silent. In the case in question, Van Chester Thompkins had not spoken for three hours of police interrogation related to a shooting homicide. He finally said "yes" when officers asked if he prayed for forgiveness for the shooting, and this one-word "statement" was used to convict Thompkins to a life in prison.
The upshot of this ruling is that, unless a suspect explicitly invokes his right to remain silent, officers can continue questioning him for endless hours, and use whatever words he speaks against him at trial.
Jon Loevy, a Chicago trial lawyer, told WBEZ that this would allow Chicago police to press suspects harder than they already do:
You'd have to be naïve to believe that the police, even short of violence, aren't aggressive. I'm sure they see that as their job to be as coercive as they can. They put people in rooms. They don't try to make them feel comfortable, they try to make them feel scared.
WBEZ also reports that a spokesman for the CPD said it will "change interrogation tactics, if necessary."