The Supreme Court made it easier Wednesday for people to challenge convictions they say are tainted because police violated their rights during questioning.
Ruling 7-2 in an Alaska case, the court gave federal judges broader power to second-guess state courts on the question of whether a criminal suspect was “in custody” when questioned.
The decision sent back to lower federal courts the case of a man who confessed to killing his ex-wife nine years ago by stabbing her 29 times.
The ruling stemmed from the court’s landmark 1966 decision in Miranda vs. Arizona. Familiar to fans of police movies and television programs, it requires officers to inform suspects in custody of their right to remain silent or have a lawyer present before responding to questions.
At issue in the Alaska case was how much deference a federal court must give to a state court determination that a suspect who made incriminating remarks was not in custody, and therefore had not been entitled to a Miranda warning.
In another matter, the justices heard arguments in an Arizona case in which the justices must decide how much access prison inmates nationwide must have to prison law libraries and legal help.
Arizona’s attorney general asked the justices to throw out a lower court order requiring a detailed plan of law libraries and legal assistants for the state’s prison inmates.
But the inmates’ lawyer said Arizona’s current system denies prisoners’ constitutional right of meaningful access to the courts.
Some members of Congress com plain that many inmate lawsuits are frivolous. A Senate bill seeks to limit prisoners’ ability to go to court by requiring them to pay full court costs and allowing good-time credits to be taken away from inmates who file frivolous claims.