Today marks the 52nd anniversary of one of the most important landmark Supreme Court decisions in American criminal law, namely the decision of Miranda v. Arizona. Miranda stands as one of the landmark cases in the American criminal justice system. The warning outlined from this case has become ubiquitous in American pop culture. In fact, the “Miranda Warning” has survived numerous constitutional challenges, in part because the Supreme Court recognizes how widespread the warning is. Miranda is a special case in American history because it represents a time when various state defense bars began a concerted effort to reform the criminal justice system. On the back of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Great Society” program, Defense bars began to push for reforms to police interrogation practices.
The case that gave birth to the now ubiquitous “Miranda Warning” was shocking, primarily because such cases do not often become the basis of major criminal justice system reforms. The case began with Ernesto Arturo Miranda, a young man and high school drop pout with a lengthy criminal history consisting of Grand Theft Auto, Burglary, Armed Robbery, Sexual Assault, and Theft.
In Early March 1963, a young woman in Phoenix Arizona was kidnapped and raped in broad daylight. The woman was released and immediately reported the attack to the police. The victim gave a description of the attacker to police which closely matched the description of Mr. Miranda. The victim also went on to identify Mr. Miranda in a police lineup. Mr. Miranda was arrested on March 13th, 1963 after the brother of the victim recognized Miranda’s truck from his sister’s description. Police followed the truck, and when officers confronted Mr. Miranda, he voluntarily agreed to go to the police station for questioning.
At the police station, Mr. Miranda was brought before a police lineup, and identified by the victim. After the Lineup, police told Mr. Miranda he had been positively identified by the victim. Following a two-hour interrogation, Mr. Miranda confessed to the kidnap and rape. Mr. Miranda was then taken to meet the victim, where he identified her as the victim, and the victim identified him by his voice. Mr. Miranda then wrote and signed a confession, writing on the top of each page that he was voluntarily making the statement with full knowledge of his rights. However, at no point during the interrogation was Mr. Miranda told of his right to remain silent, or his right to have a lawyer present.
Mr. Miranda, being indigent, was assigned a Public Defender named Alvin Moore. Moore represented Mr. Miranda at trial, and objected to the use of Miranda’s confession arguing that the confession was coerced and obtained without fully informing Mr. Miranda of his rights. However, Superior Court Judge Yale McFate overruled his objection. Mr. Miranda was convicted on wholly circumstantial evidence, the key evidence being the confession. Mr. Miranda was sentenced to 20 – 30 years for Rape and Kidnapping to run consecutively.
Mr. Miranda appealed his case to the Arizona Supreme Court, once again arguing that the confession should have been excluded because the police officers conducting the interrogation had not informed him of his rights. However, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld his conviction which emphasized that Mr. Miranda had never requested a lawyer during his interrogation. Mr. Miranda applied for a writ of certiorari in early 1965, and was granted cert soon after.
At the Supreme Court, Mr. Miranda’s case was consolidated with three other cases, each involving similar fact patterns of defendants being subjected to police interrogations where they were not informed of their rights, and yet made confessions which purported to be made voluntarily and with full knowledge of their rights. However, because of Supreme Court naming conventions, Mr. Miranda’s name appeared as the first name on the case, forever tying the holding to him.
On February 28th through March 1st, Mr. Miranda argued to the Supreme Court that he, and his fellow codefendants deserved a new trial because their confessions had been made without them knowing their rights. Mr. Miranda argued specifically that if he had been informed of his right to remain silent, and his right to a lawyer, he would not have confessed. Mr. Miranda’s argument was based around the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination, and 6th amendment right to counsel. Mr. Miranda’s lawyer argued that because Mr. Miranda was an emotionally disturbed, poorly educated man, it shouldn’t be expected that he knows his constitutional rights.
The State argued that the case did not involve the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination, and instead was an attempt to expand the 6th amendment which had recently been indicated by the previous Supreme Court case of Escobedo v. Illinois. The State then argued that the justices should clarify their previous ruling. Further the state argued that if the Supreme Court required police to inform suspects of their rights, they would effectively stop police from doing their job and jeopardize public safety. Finally, then Solicitor general, and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued for the State saying that the Government could not afford to appoint lawyers to every indigent suspect if the Supreme Court mandated that suspects be given lawyers while in interrogation.
On June 13th, 1966, The Supreme Court rendered its Judgment. Former Prosecutor, and Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the majority opinion of the court. In a 5 – 4 decisions, the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of all of the defendants in the case and ordered retrial for all of them without the confessions. Chief Justice Warren held that, because of the coercive nature of police interrogations, suspects must be made aware of their rights. Citing numerous police manuals, Chief Justice Warren opined that police have the upper hand in interrogation creating a dangerous environment for false confessions.
Thus, the Supreme Court created from whole cloth, a new right in the criminal justice system. The Court held that police must inform a suspect who is in custody of their right to remain silent, what happens if they wave that right, their right to a lawyer, and their ability to be appointed a lawyer if they could not afford one. The Court went on to hold that if an individual chose to exercise their 5th amendment right to silence, the interrogation must end, and if they chose to exercise their 6th amendment right to counsel, the interrogation must stop until the suspect is provided with a lawyer.
The four dissenting justices each focused on different aspects of the majority opinion. Justice Tom C. Clark, who concurred in part with the majority, and dissented in part argued that the Warren Court had gone to far to seek to end coerced interrogations. Justice Clark argued that a simple “totality of the circumstances” test should be used to decide if a confession was voluntarily made. Justice John Marshall Harlan II argued that the requirement to inform suspects of their rights was not specifically enumerated in the Constitution and as such was erroneously adding new rights where none could be found. Justice Byron White followed Justice Harlan’s dissent arguing that the new right enumerated by the court was not based on the constitution and as such was a overreach. Justice White went on to predict the holding would have a profoundly negative effect on the criminal justice system leading to rapist and murders being released on mass. Justice Potter Stewart joined both Justice Harlan, and Justice White’s dissent but did not write his own.
Following the monumental decision, Mr. Miranda was given a new trial. However, based upon the eye-witness identification from the victim, Mr. Miranda was convicted again along with all three of his fellow co-defendants from the Supreme Court case. Mr. Miranda was again sentenced to 20 – 30 years in prison for each offense to run concurrently. Mr. Miranda was paroled in 1972, 5 years after his retrial. After his release, Mr. Miranda made a modest living as a laborer, and signing “Miranda cards”. On January 31st, 1976, Mr. Miranda was stabbed to death in a late-night bar fight. Ironically, the man who stabbed Mr. Miranda to death exercised his Miranda rights, and due to a lack of evidence was never convicted of the murder.
The impact of Miranda was felt immediately, Police departments across the United States adopted variations of the basic “Miranda Warning”. The phrase became ubiquitous in criminal procedure shows like Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, and many more. Various states have added extra warnings to the basic “Miranda Warning” laid out by the Supreme Court, but the basic format of the warning has remained the same. The basic “Miranda Warning” is as follows:
You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
The basic format is intended to inform you of basic constitutional rights. Subsequent Supreme Court cases clarified what some of these rights mean, and when these rights apply. In the case of Harris v. New York, the Supreme Court held that statements obtained in violation of Miranda may not be used as evidence at trial, but may still be used in trial to impeach a defendant if they take the stand at trial. In Rhode Island v. Innis the Supreme Court held that statements made spontaneously while in police custody, which were not the result of police questioning, or statements by police that where “reasonably likely to generate an incriminating response” could be used as evidence in court. In Berkemer v. McCarty, the Supreme Court held that “Miranda Warnings” are required in all cases, regardless of the severity of the crime. In New York v. Quarles, the Supreme Court found an exception to the “Miranda Warning” requirement. The court held that “the Public Safety” exception allows police to use statements made in violation of “Miranda Warnings” if police asked questions in response to exigent circumstances such as immediately threats to public safety like bombs or unattended weapons. In the case of Colorado v. Connelly, the Supreme Court held that the knowing intelligent waiver of the Miranda rights means only that the suspect appeared to understand their rights, not they they actually understood their rights.
Miranda survived its toughest legal challenge in the case of Dickerson v. United States. In that case, in a 7 – 2 decisions, Chief Justice Rehnquist upheld Miranda, in part because the phrase had become so ubiquitous to American culture, that to overturn the case and get rid of the warning would be unthinkable.
Miranda stands as a landmark in American Criminal law. A courageous Supreme Court acted decisively to secure our most fundamental rights from coercion. While the actual Impact of Miranda has been relatively minor, and the reality is that most people still do not understand what the rights enumerated in the warning actually mean, Miranda stands as a testament to the Supreme Courts dedication to protect our rights. With Experienced Legal Representation, you can guarantee your right against self-incrimination, and protect yourself from coercive police procedures.
Written by Hunter White
 Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966)
 State v. Miranda, 401 P.2d 721 (Ariz. 1965)
 Westover v. United States, 342 F.2d 684 (9th Cir. 1965)
 Vignera v. New York, 382 U.S. 925, 86 S. Ct. 320 (1965)
 California v. Stewart, 383 U.S. 903, 86 S. Ct. 882 (1966)
 Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 84 S. Ct. 1758 (1964)
 Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222, 91 S. Ct. 643 (1971)
 Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 100 S. Ct. 1682 (1980)
 Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 104 S. Ct. 3138 (1984)
 New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 104 S. Ct. 2626 (1984)
 Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 107 S. Ct. 515 (1986)
 Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 120 S. Ct. 2326 (2000)