Miranda at 50

MIRANDA  AT  50 – The Story of Ernesto Miranda & The Miranda Warning

“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 an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost. During any questioning, you may decide at any time to exercise these rights, not answer any questions or make any statements. Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”

Perhaps no other outcome of a United States Supreme Court decision is as well known by the general public as Miranda v. Arizona (384 U.S. 436 (1966)). In detective procedural books, on television and in film, police read these rights to anyone accused of a crime. The Miranda Warning, after half a century, is part of our national culture. It is hard to believe there was a time when these rights were not acknowledged.

Meet Ernesto Miranda:

The story began in Arizona in 1963, when Ernesto Miranda was arrested for rape, kidnapping and robbery. His truck had been spotted by the brother of the woman victim. She was developmentally delayed but had given a description of the accused and his vehicle.

Miranda was no angel. He dropped out of eighth grade with a criminal history. He spent a year in reform school after being convicted of burglary. After another crime, he went back to reform school. Later, in Los Angeles Miranda was arrested for armed robbery and sexual offenses. In Texas, he was jailed for vagrancy; in Nashville he was arrested for driving a stolen car. Eventually, he managed to stay out of trouble and worked for a Phoenix produce business.

When he was arrested for the kidnapping and rape, he signed a written confession without having been given his rights. The trial court convicted him and he was sentenced to 20 to 30 years. The decision was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Legal Battle that Ensued:

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari along with four similar cases from other states. The issue before the Court was to decide whether the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination extends to police interrogation of a suspect. Four attorneys, working pro bono, represented Miranda and argued that his rights had been violated. The Arizona Assistant Attorney General argued the other side. The case was heard by the Justices for about seven hours over two days.

On June 13, 1966, the decision was announced. The Court voted 5-4 in favor of Miranda. The Majority Opinion was written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, joined by Justices Black, Douglas, Brennan and Fortas. Justice Harlan wrote the Dissent, joined by Justices Stewart and White. Justice Clark wrote a Dissent-in-Part.

Warren wrote that the Fifth Amendment’s protection is applicable in all settings. Prosecution cannot use statements from a custodial interrogation of a suspect unless safeguards are met. In Miranda and the four other cases, the Court held police interrogation techniques failed to ensure that a defendant’s decision to speak or confess was of his own free will.

Justice Tom Clark, in his Dissent, argued the Majority opinion was too strict an interpretation of the Fifth Amendment and would compromise the ability of police to do their jobs. Even if the accused was not informed of his rights, Clark argued, statements by the person should not be automatically excluded.

Justice Harlan argued there was no legal precedent for those accused to be informed of their rights. Justice White, in his Dissent, wrote that the Fifth Amendment protects individuals when they are being compelled to give self-incriminating evidence. Custodial interrogation was not inherently coercive.

Miranda was challenged by Congress when it passed 18 U. S. C. §3501 in 1999. This bill allowed a defendant to enter a confession without the Miranda Warning if it was given voluntarily. There was much negative uproar from legal scholars and the media.

In Dickerson v. U.S., No. 99-5525 (June 26, 2000), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the legislation. Charles Dickerson reportedly confessed to a series of bank robberies. (It is disputed as to whether his Miranda rights were read to him at all, before, or after his confession.) Dickerson filed a motion to suppress his confession on the grounds that his rights weren’t read to him until after his confession. The case eventually went to the Court of Appeals, which ruled that although Dickerson was not read his Miranda Warning, his confession was voluntary and therefore could be entered. The Court said its decision was in line with §3501: “Congress enacted section §3501 with the express purpose of legislatively overruling Miranda and restoring voluntariness as the test for admitting confessions in federal court.”

The question before the United States Supreme Court was whether Congress could overrule Miranda. The Court ruled 7-2 that Miranda applies in state and federal courts. It is a right protected under the Constitution and therefore could not be overturned by Congress. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the majority: “Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.”  (In a touch of irony, Rehnquist had been appointed by President Nixon to tilt the Court toward the right.)

The late Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote in his Dissent that the majority gave unnecessary protection to “foolish (but not compelled) confessions.” He wrote, in his characteristically “originalist,” colorful and erudite style, “Today’s judgment converts Miranda from a milestone of judicial overreaching into the very Cheops’ Pyramid (or perhaps the Sphinx would be a better analogue) of judicial arrogance. In imposing its Court-made code upon the States, the original opinion at least asserted that it was demanded by the Constitution. Today’s decision does not pretend that it is–and yet still asserts the right to impose it against the will of the people’s representatives in Congress. Far from believing that stare decisis compels this result, I believe we cannot allow to remain on the books even a celebrated decision–especially a celebrated decision–that has come to stand for the proposition that the Supreme Court has power to impose extra-constitutional constraints upon Congress and the States. This is not the system that was established by the Framers, or that would be established by any sane supporter of government by the people.”

An Ironic End to Ernesto Miranda:

What happened to the victorious, history-making Ernesto Miranda? He didn’t do very well. He was re-tried by the State of Arizona without the introduction of his original confession and found guilty. He served 11 years and was paroled in 1972. He continued his criminal career until 1976, when he was stabbed to death in a bar. In a strange twist of fate, a suspect was arrested, but he exercised his Miranda right to remain silent. He was released, and no one was ever charged with the murder.