Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971)

2012-07-10 18:52:48

In its landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court held that the police may not interrogate a suspect in custody unless the police advise him of his right to remain silent and to an attorney. The suspect is entitled to be advised that (1) he has the right to remain silent; (2) anything he says ‘‘can and will’’ be used against him in court; (3) he has the right to consult an attorney and to have an attorney present during the interrogation; and (4) if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for him. Statements obtained by the police in violation of Miranda are inadmissible in the prosecutor’s case-in-chief.

Miranda initially generated great controversy. However, by 2000 the Supreme Court in Dickerson v. United States found that ‘‘Miranda has been embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.’’ Even prosecutors came to embrace the Miranda warnings because they provide law enforcement officers with much needed structure for carrying out custodial interrogations.

However, there has been ongoing controversy over the scope of Miranda. In Harris v. New York (1971), the Court marked out a significant exception to the exclusionary rule. The Court in Harris held that if the defendant testifies on his own behalf, statements obtained from him in violation of the Miranda warnings may be used to impeach his credibility.

Harris was charged with selling heroin to an undercover officer. He testified on his own behalf that he knew the undercover officer but denied selling him heroin. Harris had not been given complete Miranda warnings because he was not advised of his right to assigned counsel. Nevertheless, on cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Harris if he had made specified statements to the police officer immediately after his arrest that partially contradicted his direct testimony. Harris said that he couldn’t remember what he told the officer. The trial judge instructed the jury that the statements attributed to Harris by the prosecutor could be considered in evaluating Harris’s credibility, although not as substantive evidence of guilt.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Harris’s conviction. The Court found that the Miranda exclusionary rule does not apply to inconsistent statements used to attack the defendant’s credibility. The Court stressed the importance of testing the veracity of the defendant’s testimony: ‘‘The shield provided by Miranda cannot be perverted into a license to use perjury by way of a defense, free from the risk of confrontation with prior inconsistent utterances.’’ The Court also found that ‘‘[a]ssuming that the [Miranda] exclusionary rule has a deterrent effect on proscribed [police] conduct, sufficient deterrence flows when the evidence in question is made unavailable to the prosecution in its case in chief.’’

In a follow-up case, Oregon v. Hass (1975), the Supreme Court held that Harris applies to other Miranda violations, for example, where the police continued to question the suspect after he asked for an attorney.

Harris was the beginning of a series of Supreme Court decisions restricting the scope of Miranda. Later Supreme Court decisions took a narrow view of the meaning of ‘‘interrogation,’’ held Miranda inapplicable to statements made to undercover agents, recognized ‘‘public safety’’ and booking exceptions to Miranda, and rejected the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.


References and Further Reading

  • LaFave, W., J. Israel, and N. King. Criminal Procedure. 4th ed. St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000)
  • Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971)
  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)
  • Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714 (1975)

See also Miranda Warning; Self-Incrimination: Miranda and Evolution; Self-Incrimination (V): Historical Background