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Michigan v. Tucker

Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 433, 94 S. Ct. 2357, 41 L. Ed. 2d 182, was a critical 1974 Supreme Court decision that limited the constitutional authority of the Miranda rights that the Court had developed in the landmark decision in MIRANDA V. ARIZONA, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966). In Michigan v. Tucker, the Court concluded that the Miranda rights were procedural safeguards and not rights protected by the Constitution.

The FIFTH AMENDMENT to the Constitution contains the Self-Incrimination Clause, which guarantees a person the right to refuse to answer questions that might implicate the person in a crime. The Court in Miranda announced a set of warnings that law enforcement officers must give a suspect before an interrogation. These well-known warnings direct that a suspect be advised of the right to remain silent, be warned that any statement the suspect makes may be used as evidence against the person, be told of the right to have a lawyer present during interrogation, and if the suspect cannot afford an attorney, the right to have a lawyer appointed to represent the suspect. The Court believed that this set of warnings would create a uniform policy for all law enforcement officers to follow. The penalty for ignoring the Miranda warning was the exclusion at trial of any statements or confessions made by the defendant.

In Michigan v. Tucker, the Court was confronted with a suspect in a brutal rape whose interrogation had occurred prior to the Court's ruling in Miranda. Nevertheless, the police officers who interrogated Thomas W. Tucker advised him of his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney. They did not advise him, however, that he had a right to a free lawyer. Tucker waived his rights and proceeded to name a person who he claimed could provide an alibi. That person, however, provided incriminating evidence against Tucker. Tucker objected to the admission of his statements and sought the protection of the Miranda rights that the Court had announced after his arrest but prior to his trial. Tucker also asked that the alibi witness not be allowed to testify because Tucker had provided that information during his interrogation.

The trial judge excluded all of Tucker's statements but allowed the alibi witness to testify. A jury convicted Tucker, and his appeals were denied by the Michigan courts. He then filed a HABEAS CORPUS action in federal court, alleging that the admission of the alibi witness's testimony was tainted by the failure of the police to give him his full Miranda rights. Both the federal district court and the court of appeals agreed with Tucker, reversing the conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts. Justice WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST, writing for the majority, articulated in general terms the difference between a Miranda violation and a constitutional violation of a defendant's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The Court found that there was a difference between incriminating statements that are actually "coerced" or "compelled" and those obtained merely in violation of the Miranda warning. The former are violations of the Fifth Amendment, whereas the latter are violations of a set of procedural safeguards. Violations of the procedural safeguards, by themselves, will not result in the suppression of the defendant's statements. In this case Tucker's statements had not been coerced; therefore, the testimony of the alibi witness was permissible.

Rehnquist noted that Miranda:

recognized that these procedural safeguards [the warnings] were not themselves rights protected by the Constitution but were instead measures to insure that the right against compulsory self-incrimination was protected. … The suggested safeguards were not intended to "create a constitutional straitjacket," but rather to provide practical reinforcement for the right against compulsory self-incrimination.

This meant that the failure of police to provide a complete set of warnings, by itself, would not taint the interrogation and force the suppression of the statements. A court had to then look at the conduct of the police to determine if the suspect had been coerced into making incriminating statements.

In this case Rehnquist found that Tucker's interrogation did not bear "any resemblance to the historical practices at which the right against compulsory self-incrimination was aimed. … [H]is statements could hardly be termed involuntary as that term has been defined in the decisions of this Court." Rehnquist emphasized that the Court's determination that the case did not involve compulsion sufficient to breach the right of self-incrimination did not mean that police could disregard the Miranda warning. The question was "how sweeping [were] the judicially imposed consequences of this disregard."Absent evidence that a defendant's statement was coerced, the Court was not willing to exclude evidence because the police failed to follow the procedures set out in Miranda.

The distinction in Tucker between what Rehnquist called "prophylactic rules" and constitutional rights reappeared in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 104 S. Ct. 2626, 81 L. Ed. 2d 550 (1984), and Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 105 S. Ct. 1285, 84 L. Ed. 2d 222 (1985). In Quarles the Court recognized a "public safety" exception to the requirement that the Miranda warning be given, reasoning that "the need for answers to questions in a situation posing a threat to the public safety outweighs the need for the prophylactic rule protecting the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination."

In Elstad the Court held that a second confession, immediately preceded by the Miranda warning, was admissible, although an earlier statement from the defendant had been obtained in violation of Miranda. The Court noted that suppression of a defendant's statements assumes a "constitutional violation" but that unwarned questioning in itself violated only prophylactic standards laid down to safeguard against such a violation. Using the reasoning in Tucker the Court ruled that a noncoercive Miranda violation will not result in the suppression of the "accused's own voluntary testimony." The implication of Tucker and the two later decisions is that all types of evidence will not be suppressed because of Miranda violations.


Brandt, Charles. 1988. The Right to Remain Silent. New York: St. Martin's.

Graham, Fred P. 1970. The Self-Inflicted Wound: The Warren Court's Revolutionary Ruling in Criminal Law. New York: Macmillan.

White, Welsh S. 2003. Miranda's Warning Protections: Police Interrogation Practices after Dickerson. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan.

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