Miranda v. Arizona

Miranda v. Arizona was a decision rendered by the United States Supreme Court in 1966 which set an important legal precedent establishing a new legal principle and procedural steps required to introduce a person’s own statements as evidence at trial.  In Miranda the Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the prosecution from introducing a person’s statements into evidence at trial, except when they can establish that prior to interrogation the person was 1. informed of their right to remain silent (not to incriminate themselves) and if they give up that right then anything they say can be used against them in court, and 2. informed of their right to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one, and to have the attorney present during questioning.

To be clear, the Supreme Court’s decision did not create a person’s Miranda rights, rather the decision requires law enforcement and prosecutors to respect and observe people’s rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution, or to be penalized for their failure to do so.

In early 1963 Ernesto Miranda was arrested based on circumstantial evidence on suspicion of the kidnapping, rape and robbery of an 18-year-old woman more than a week earlier.  After hours of interrogation by Phoenix Police, Miranda signed a confession to the rape charge, however, he was never advised of his right to counsel or advised he did not have to answer questions, nor that doing so could be used against him in court.  At his criminal trial his court-appointed lawyer objected to the introduction of the confession on those grounds, which objection was overruled by the trial judge.  Thereafter, Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to 20-30 years in prison. 

Miranda’s conviction was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which affirmed (or upheld as correct) the trial court’s decision to admit the confession into evidence, justifying this decision by emphasizing that Miranda did not specifically request an attorney.  The case was then appealed to the United State Supreme Court, which issued a 5-4 decision overturning Miranda’s conviction and remanding the case for retrial.

The majority decision, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled the confession inadmissible due to the failure to make Miranda aware of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination (…nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…) and Sixth Amendment right to an attorney (…and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence[sic].).  Further, the Court ruled if the person indicates “in any manner” that he wishes to remain silent prior to or during questioning, interrogation “must cease”; and if an attorney is requested interrogation “must cease” until an attorney is present, at which time the person must be given opportunity to confer with the attorney and have the attorney present during any subsequent questioning.

An interesting side note:  Ernesto Miranda was stabbed to death in 1976 after being involved in a fight at a Phoenix, Arizona bar.  Phoenix Police later picked up a suspect, whose Miranda rights were duly given to him; he stayed silent, and was not charged with a crime.

Thank you to attorney Gordon Thompson for his insight into Miranda Rights.

 

 

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