The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the power of police to videotape drunk-driving suspects and use evidence of their slurred speech against them at trial without first advising the drivers of their constitutional rights.
The court, ruling 8 to 1, compared slurred speech to obtaining a suspect's blood or handwriting sample and said using such evidence does not violate rights against self-incrimination.
The court said police may videotape suspects answering routine "booking questions" about their name, address, height, weight, eye color, age and date of birth without first providing the so-called Miranda warning that they have the right to remain silent.
The use of videotapes to record drunk-driving suspects performing sobriety tests and answering questions has become a common and effective police technique.
Yesterday's decision came in the case of Inocencio Muniz, a Pennsylvania man arrested in Cumberland County, Pa., in 1986 for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Police videotaped Muniz answering questions at the booking center, where his speech was slurred and he stumbled over his age -- initially giving the wrong number -- and his address, for which he needed to look at his driver's license. Muniz was then unable to tell police the date of his sixth birthday. And in the course of being videotaped taking three sobriety tests, Muniz offered several incriminating statements explaining his inability to perform the test.
A Pennsylvania appeals court allowed the use of the videotaped evidence of Muniz failing the sobriety tests -- walking a straight line, standing on one leg, and looking at a moving object -- but suppressed the entire audio portion of the tape.
In reversing that decision yesterday, the court, in an opinion by Justice William J. Brennan Jr., said "any slurring of speech and other evidence of lack of muscular coordination revealed by Muniz's responses" were "non-testimonial" and therefore did not require Miranda warnings.
However, by a 5 to 4 vote, the court said the question to Muniz about the date of his sixth birthday did require a "testimonial response" and should be suppressed. Justice Thurgood Marshall, who dissented from the rest of the ruling, joined with Brennan and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy in that conclusion.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist -- joined by Justices Byron R. White, Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens -- said the sixth-birthday question should have been allowed because it was simply "an effort on the part of the police to check how well Muniz was able to do a simple mathematical exercise," similar to the check of his physical reflexes.
The court also said Muniz's incriminating statements could be used against him because they were voluntary and "not prompted by an interrogation." The case is Pennsylvania v. Muniz.
In other action yesterday, the court refused to review a ruling requiring Boston University to give tenure to an English literature professor found to have been a victim of sex discrimination. The university argued in Boston University v. Brown that requiring it to grant tenure would interfere with its academic freedom.