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On This Day: Supreme Court Requires Police to Give “Miranda” Warnings

June 13, 2009 02:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On June 13, 1966, the Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona that police must inform suspects in custody of their rights before questioning them.

Miranda v. Arizona Alters Criminal Law

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“You have 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 talk with a lawyer …”

Slight variations of those phrases, uttered by an arresting officer to a defendant in custody, are standard police procedure and familiar fare to TV crime show audiences.

Ernesto Miranda was an emotionally disturbed man with a limited education who confessed to rape and armed robbery after hours of police questioning without having been told of his right to remain silent. In its landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Miranda's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated.

Time magazine chronicled the aftermath of the historic decision two months after the case went to trial. The court ruled that every suspect had to be “warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning, if he so desires."

The Court had already ruled, in the 1964 Escobedo v. Illinois case, that suspects must be told of their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney, Time reported.

The Miranda decision sparked fierce protest from some law enforcement officials.

“To supporters, Miranda is a safeguard against police abuse; to opponents, a spoiler in hundreds of thousands of criminal cases every year,” Gwen Ifill said in a "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" broadcast in 2000. If the police make mistakes, "a defendant’s confession can be thrown out,” she said.

Despite opposition, “'Miranda' has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist was quoted as stating by Voice of America.

Background: Escobedo and Miranda

In the 1964 case of Escobedo v. Illinois, the Supreme Court ruled that suspects in custody have the right to counsel before and during police questioning. For Ernesto Miranda, the rulings ultimately made little difference. After a retrial based on other evidence, Miranda was again convicted.

MirandaWarning.org provides a history of the Miranda Warning and information about Miranda rights, pre-arrest questioning, post-arrest questioning and Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Audio: Oral arguments of Miranda v. Arizona

The Oyez Project, a multimedia archive devoted to the Supreme Court, presents several audio clips of oral arguments from Miranda v. Arizona.

Opinion & Analysis: Merits and impact of the ruling

Prior to a 2000 court case in which the Supreme Court revisited its 1966 ruling, PBS hosted a discussion between two lawyers on each side of the Miranda rights debate.

“Giving Miranda warnings has not proven to be a problem," argued Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and an advocate of loosening the Miranda requirement. "What has proven to be a problem is the exclusionary rule feature of Miranda … that throws out perfectly voluntary confession.” 

In Voice of America's 40th anniversary commemorative piece, Susan Logue wrote, “Forty years ago, the idea that anyone taken into police custody for questioning must first be advised of his or her Constitutional rights was controversial. It was assumed that the Fifth Amendment, which states that no one shall be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case, only applied in the courtroom.”

Reference: Full text of the Miranda decision; Justice’s notes on the case

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