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By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer Mon Sep 5, 4:10 AM ET

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Gorman Roberts' manslaughter conviction was overturned because of a single word. Roberts, now 20, was convicted of pushing 5-year-old Jordan Payne in February 2002 into a Pompano Beach canal, where he drowned. But his conviction and three-year prison sentence were thrown out in May 2004 when an appeals court ruled the Miranda rights warning he got from Broward Sheriff's Office investigators was incomplete.

The warning, which said suspects "have the right to talk with a lawyer and have a lawyer present before any questioning," failed to spell out that defendants also had the right to an attorney "during" police interrogation as well. It was corrected in November 2002.
Since then, more than two dozen other Broward County cases - including murders, robberies and illegal drugs - have been affected because of the faulty Miranda warnings. Convictions have been reversed in some, defendant statements suppressed in others.

"It's frustrating and disappointing because our detectives diligently investigate crimes and obtain good statements and confessions," said sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal.

Since the Supreme Court's 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, which produced the well-known police rights advisory that begins "You have the right to remain silent," state and federal courts have issued several decisions on how to put the ruling into practice. Few rulings, however, have focused on a single word, as Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal has in several cases.

"Miranda was meant to be easy to use," said Stephen Saltzburg, law professor at George Washington University. "I think what you have is a court interpreting Miranda in an overly technical manner."

But Ellis Rubin, the Miami defense attorney who first challenged Broward's Miranda warning, said precise language is essential if criminal suspects are expected to understand their legal rights.

"You have the right to cut off questioning at any time and remain silent," Rubin said.

The Supreme Court refused to hear Florida's appeal in one of the Broward cases, letting the state appeals decision stand. And just last month, a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale tossed out statements made by drug suspects to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for the same reason.

In the case of Roberts, state prosecutors were forced to drop all charges after his alleged confession was ruled inadmissible because the only witnesses were two 10-year-old boys whose stories conflicted.

Police and legal experts say it is difficult to produce a single Miranda warning for all investigators nationwide, mainly because of differing court interpretations in various states. Joseph Estey, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said police should consult closely with their local prosecutors to get it right.

"Miranda is in theory a very simple concept that has actually become pretty complicated," said Estey. "The fallback should be, you should have a form that's been legally adopted through the prosecuting authority."

Prosecutors say most of the cases affected by the older Broward Sheriff's Office form have gone through the system or are in latter stages of litigation. Some are headed for new trials, while the state was forced to drop its case against Roberts and others when a key statement was ruled inadmissible evidence.

In a statement, Broward State Attorney Michael Satz said prosecutors respect the 4th District decisions but still believe the original Miranda decision did not envision legal battles over individual words in police rights warnings.

"If you read the opinion in its proper context, the court held that a defendant must be advised that he has a right to the presence of counsel, either appointed or retained," the statement said. "It never harped on the preposition 'before and during' as the lower Florida court opinions are now doing."
 

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I always liked "You have the right to remain silent, NOW SHUT YOUR HOLE!"
 
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