Ernesto Arturo Miranda (1941–1976)

2012-08-05 14:18:02

The name ‘‘Miranda’’ is now permanently linked to the requirement that police inform suspects of certain Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights before interrogating them. The recital of the so-called ‘‘Miranda rights’’ has become a ritual accompanying the act of placing someone under arrest, introducing a new verb, to ‘‘mirandize,’’ into the language. The connection between the name and the rights is at least partially due to the vagaries of chance: Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), just happened to be listed as the first of three cases considered together by the Supreme Court. As a result of that landmark decision, when police detain a suspect they almost inevitably recite the now familiar litany: ‘‘You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and to have the attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.’’

Ernesto Arturo MirandaErnesto Miranda probably had very little idea of how his case would affect criminal justice in the United States. Unlike Clarence Earl Gideon of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), Miranda did not play an active role in his appeal. Certain members of the Supreme Court were looking for cases like Miranda’s in order to clarify the implementation of previous decisions, including Gideon and Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964). Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union assisted in the appeal process, filing an amicus curiae brief for the Supreme Court.

There was nothing extraordinary about the case, other than the prosecution’s reliance on Miranda’s confessions. A young woman was abducted and raped. Although she was mildly retarded, she was able to give police a description that fit Miranda and later identified him in a lineup. Miranda was charged with kidnapping and rape. He was also charged with robbery, when another victim identified him as the man who had robbed her at knifepoint. When police told Miranda that the victims had identified him, he confessed to both crimes. His version of events substantially matched those of the victims.

There was never any allegation that the police coerced the confessions; Miranda did not ask for an attorney as happened in the Escobedo case. At issue was whether a suspect detained by the police could waive his or her right against self-incrimination without the advice of a lawyer, and at what point in an investigation the police should be required to inform suspects of their rights. This was the basis of the defense strategy deployed by Miranda’s courtappointed attorney, Alvin Moore. Moore moved unsuccessfully to have the confessions excluded. He cross-examined the police officers, asking whether they had informed Miranda of his right to legal counsel.

Although the guilty verdicts for kidnapping and rape were overturned, Miranda remained incarcerated while the appeals were considered. The conviction for the robbery charge was never overturned. In the Court’s opinion, Chief Justice Warren argued, among other things, that confessions were not essential to good police work and successful prosecution. As if to underscore that point, Miranda was almost immediately retried, this time without the confessions, and was again convicted. He was sentenced, for the second time, to concurrent prison terms of twenty to thirty years.

Ernesto Arturo Miranda was in many ways typical of the occupants of prison. Raised in a somewhat disrupted family environment (his mother died when he was young, and he never developed close relationships with his father or stepmother), he did not do well in school and began getting into trouble with the law after dropping out of the ninth grade at age fourteen. He was in and out of reform school, jail, and prison. At the time of the arrest, he was living with his common-law wife, working as a truck driver, and appeared to have settled down. Psychiatric diagnoses conducted while he was awaiting trial described him as immature, lacking impulse control, and possibly suffering from a mental illness. His common-law wife testified for the prosecution in the second trial, following an incident in which Miranda had written to the state welfare authorities, suggesting that she was an unfit mother.

Freed on parole in 1972, Miranda felt cheated that he never profited from the famous case. At one point he tried to sell autographed cards printed with the Miranda warnings. He never adjusted to life outside prison; he was arrested once and was once reincarcerated for violating the terms of his parole. Miranda was murdered following a dispute over a three-dollar poker bet in Phoenix in 1976. Although his contribution to the development of civil liberties was not heroic, his name symbolizes the restraint of state power prized by civil libertarians.


References and Further Reading

  • Cortner, Richard C., and Clifford M. Lytle. Modern Constitutional Law. New York: Free Press, 1971.
  • Richard, R. Leo, and George C. Thomas, eds. The Miranda Debate: Law, Justice, and Policing. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.
  • Walker, Samuel. Sense and Nonsense About Crime and Drugs, 5th ed. New York: Wadsworth, 2001.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964)
  • Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)
  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

See also Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964); Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963); Right to Counsel; Warren Court; Warren, Earl