In 1963 Phoenix resident Ernesto Miranda was arrested and charged with rape, kidnapping and robbery. As was the practice at the time, he was not told of his constitutional rights not to self-incriminate himself prior to police questioning. During a two-hour interrogation Miranda allegedly confessed and that confession was recorded. Miranda, who left school in ninth grade and had a history of mental instability, didn’t have an attorney present.
The prosecution’s case at trial was solely his confession. Miranda was convicted of both rape and kidnapping and sentenced to twenty to thirty years in prison. His appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court, arguing his confession was unconstitutionally obtained, was denied. Miranda appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Its 1966 decision in Miranda’s case has impacted virtually every criminal arrest in the country since.
The court redefined the direction of modern law enforcement because of Miranda v. Arizona, one of the best known and influential legal decisions in modern times. Trying to prevent the compelling pressures part of “police dominated atmosphere” of questioning suspects in custody (when the person is deprived of his or her freedom of action in any significant way), the Court, at the time lead by Chief Justice
Earl Warren, spelled out the familiar four piece warnings that we have heard on television shows and movies when criminal suspects are being interrogated.
A suspect has the right to remain silent. What a suspect says can be used against him or her in a court of law. The suspect has a right to legal counsel and if the suspect can’t afford one, the court will appoint one.
These statements must be made if the person is in custody before an interrogation can legally commence and those rights must be voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently waived in order for subsequent statements to be admissible in court. The majority saw the warnings as a necessary safeguard to protect a suspect’s underlying Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
The five to four majority decision in Miranda noted the history of the “third degree” (the use of physical violence, the threat of physical violence and psychological abuse) in interrogations and the danger of false confessions, it described modern interrogations as “psychologically rather than physically oriented.” Using police training manuals, the court described custodial police questioning as manipulative, heavy handed and oppressive, which threatened to overpower rational decision making of suspects who were ignorant of their constitutional rights.
Not all solutions work all the time. Like any legal decision, affected parties will adjust. One way law enforcement tries to minimize the impact of this decision is to talk to the suspect while he or she is not in police custody (which triggers the need to read the warnings) so anything the person says may be used at trial. Law enforcement may delay or avoid arresting a suspect, making it clear to the person they’re free to go. If a sufficiently incriminating statement is made, the arrest could then be made and the statement can be used in court.
Despite the loopholes that have been developed since the Miranda decision in 1966, it results in those being questioned by the police better understanding their constitutional rights and being able to better make decisions as to what to say or do while in police custody.