Self-Incrimination: Miranda and Evolution

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides in relevant part that—‘‘no person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself . . . .’’ The Fifth Amendment applies to all federal courts and the federal government. The Fourteenth Amendment forbids states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

During the counterculture mood of the 1960s, civil and human rights movements, social revolution, and anti–Vietnam war protests occurred across the country. It was during this time of social unrest that the Supreme Court was called on to settle a then controversial criminal justice issue—interrogation of suspects in custody by police to extract confessions. In essence, to do what the Fifth Amendment precluded— compel the criminal suspect to be a ‘‘witness against himself.’’ The Court interpreted this individual right in the case that was to give rise to what we now know as the ‘‘Miranda rights’’—Miranda v. Arizona.

The underlying facts in Miranda were uncomplicated. On March 2, 1963, a twenty-three-year-old Ernesto Miranda drove up to an eighteen-year-old woman walking home from work. Miranda parked his car and approached the woman, grabbed her, and forced her into the back seat of his car where he bound her and threatened her with a knife. Miranda drove the victim to the desert and raped her before returning her to the place from where she was kidnapped.

Miranda was arrested by state police based on the victim’s description of the car. The victim was unable to identify Miranda out of a lineup. However, when Miranda was interrogated by police, he was falsely told that the victim had identified him. He broke down and gave a written confession. At the top of the paper he was given to write out his confession, there was a paragraph stating that Miranda understood his rights and that he was confessing voluntarily. Miranda was never directly informed of his Fifth Amendment rights; he had only a grade-school education.

At his state criminal trial, the prosecution, over the objections of Miranda’s court-appointed lawyer, was allowed to introduce Miranda’s written confession as the key evidence against him. Miranda was convicted of the charges. He was later sentenced to twenty to thirty years. His lawyer appealed the conviction to the Arizona Supreme Court. The convictions were upheld. The American Civil Liberties Union in Phoenix, Arizona, picked up Miranda’s case. And in 1965 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case, consolidating it with three other cases presenting the same constitutional issue—Westover v. United States, Vignera v. New York, and California v. Stewart. On June 13, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion reversing Miranda’s conviction and granting him a new trial because his due process rights were violated through the denial of his right against self-incrimination.

The Court held that, because of the due process guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment (also contained in the Fifth Amendment), ‘‘[T]he prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination . . . .’’ The ‘‘person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him’’ (Miranda, at 467–473). These are the now well-known Miranda Rights and remain unchanged forty years later.

The Court’s decision in Miranda was so controversial that it took center stage in the political debates during the 1968 presidential election. The Miranda decision and the rationale for its new doctrine have evolved through time and have set off legions of scholarly articles and judicial decisions.

Two years after Miranda, Congress tried to erode the basis of the decision by enacting Title 18 U.S.C. } 3501. Section 3501 made the giving of the Miranda Rights but one factor in the determination of the admissibility of custodial statements. Section 3501 tried to return to the voluntariness analysis in confession cases in place before Miranda was decided. But this statute was largely ignored by the courts, because it was viewed as unconstitutional in light of Miranda. It was not until 2000 that } 3501 was held unconstitutional by the Court in the landmark self-incrimination case of Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000).

Shortly after Miranda was decided, the Court began to retreat from its initial legal rule. In Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971), the Court held that statements taken in violation of Miranda can still be introduced at trial to impeach a defendant. In Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 433 (1974), the Court held that the Fourth Amendment’s ‘‘fruit of the poisonous tree’’ did not apply to Miranda violations; this ruling reaffirmed in U.S. v. Patane, 124 S.Ct. 2620 (2004). In Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), the Court held that once a suspects asks for a lawyer after Miranda rights, all questioning must cease; but, in Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452 (1994) that invocation must be unequivocal and clear. Then, in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984), the Court found a public safety exception to the giving of Miranda rights. And in Duckworth v. Eagan, 492 U.S. 195 (1989), the Court approved a set of Miranda warnings slightly different from its original set. In Missouri v. Seibert, 124 S.Ct. 2601 (2004), the Court struck down a common law enforcement interrogation technique of securing a confession and afterwards to give Miranda warnings and then getting the confession again.

Miranda warnings have remained a staple in American society as a preventive cure to overzealous law enforcement officers. Miranda has survived and been reaffirmed at its core in the Dickerson and Seibert cases.

EZEKIEL E. CORTEZ

References and Further Reading

  • Cassell, Paul, and Robert Litt, Will Miranda Survive?: Dickerson v. United States: The Right to Remain Silent, the Supreme Court, and Congress, Debate at the Georgetown University Law Center (March 28, 2000). Criminal Law Review 1165 (2000).
  • Godsey, Mark A., Rethinking the Involuntary Confession Rule: Toward a Workable Test for Identifying Compelled Self-Incrimination, 93 California Law Review 465 (2005): 499–505.
  • ———, Miranda’s Final Frontier—The International Arena: A Critical Analysis of United States v. Bin Laden, and a Proposal for a New Miranda Exception Abroad, 51 Duke Law Journal 1703, 1735–1752.
  • Levy, Leonard W. Origins of the Fifth Amendment. New York: Macmillan–Pulitzer Prize winner, 1969. Reprint 1986.
  • Stuart, Gary L. Miranda: The Story of America’s Right to Remain Silent. University of Arizona Press (2004).
  • White, Welsh S. Miranda’s Waning Protections. University of Michigan Press (2003).

See also Coerced Confessions/Police Interrogation; Miranda Warning

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