Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

The Miranda case included three other cases from across the country, all of which dealt with police interrogation of persons suspected of a crime.

Phoenix police officers arrested Ernesto Miranda at his home on suspicion of rape and kidnapping. He was transported to the police station and placed in an interrogation room. After two hours of interrogation the police obtained a written confession from Miranda. He was convicted of the charges and his attorney appealed, stating that he was not advised of his constitutional rights, namely his Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. In its analysis, great weight was given to the fact that Miranda had not specifically requested counsel. However, during the trial, the police admitted that Miranda had not been advised that he had the right to have counsel present.

If the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution states, in part, ‘‘No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,’’ and the Sixth Amendment states, ‘‘the accused shall . . . have the Assistance of Counsel,’’ why were these defendants confined and interrogated by law enforcement? Isolated and given incomplete or nonexistent information about their constitutional rights, they were convicted on the confessions obtained from this process.

Though Miranda is sometimes characterized as a giant leap by the Supreme Court, it was at best a small hop, as a child hops from one stone to another to cross a creek. To understand this one must understand a bit of history. Two years previously the Supreme Court decided Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, which involved a defendant under very similar circumstances. Handcuffed and forced to remain standing, he was interrogated until a confession was obtained four hours later. The police failed to honor his request to speak with an attorney and, furthermore, prevented him from speaking to his retained attorney when the attorney arrived at the police station. The Court held that this violated the defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights and his confession was inadmissible. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed Escobedo in deciding Miranda. However, a difference lies in the fact that in the Miranda consolidated cases there was no prevention of counsel from speaking with the client. Miranda’s roots, therefore, lie in the Fifth Amendment—the right to be free from self-incrimination.

The Supreme Court held that under two circumstances a person must be given precautionary warnings, creating the two-prong test of Miranda. The first prong is custody, which is when a person is in the custody of law enforcement or his or her freedom of movement is restricted by law enforcement. The second prong is interrogation, which is when the person is then questioned about a criminal matter in which he or she is involved. If the two-prong test is met, the precautionary warnings must be given if the information obtained is to be admissible. The warnings are as follows:

The person must be advised of his right to remain silent and that anything said could be used in court against him.

The person has the right to have an attorney present during questioning, whether he can afford one or not.

The person can waive his rights but only if it is done in a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent manner.

If the person does not waive his rights, the police may not question him. The facts from the consolidated line of cases appear obvious in the sense that all of the defendants were questioned without being advised of their constitutional rights. Yet the Court in its holding relied on other evidence to support the conclusion that a warning should be given. Among the most poignant were police training manuals, which advocated police officers honoring a defendant’s initial request to remain silent, but then pointing out how guilty it made the defendant look. If a defendant requested an attorney, the police officer was to advise the defendant that he or she should first be honest with the officer before involving the lawyer. Many of the manuals also advocated a ‘‘good cop, bad cop’’ approach with the bad cop using trickery, intimidation, and threats. From this evidence it appeared the problem was systemic, a conclusion that influenced the Court to hold that the warnings need be uniform and apply broadly.

Police departments abhorred the Miranda decision initially. Many said the guilty would go free and police would be powerless to obtain confessions. Though this is still argued, what is true is that it has demanded a more professional police force and ensured that the amendments of the Constitution are more than just words. Although Miranda has been controversial, the Court reaffirmed it by a sevento- two vote in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000).

DAVID BLACKETT

References and Further Reading

  • Hogrogian, John G. Miranda v. Arizona: The Rights of the Accused. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1999.
  • Sobel, Nathan R. The New Confession Standards, Miranda v. Arizona; a Legal Perspective, a Practical Perspective. Jamaica, NY: Gould Publications, 1966.
  • Stuart, Gary L. Miranda: The Story of America’s Right to Remain Silent. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Dickerson v. U.S., 530 U.S. 428 (2000)
  • Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964)
  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

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