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Miranda v. Arizona

Further Readings

Miranda v. Arizona was a landmark decision, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), in the field of CRIMINAL PROCEDURE. In Miranda, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a set of specific rights for criminal defendants. The Miranda warning, named after Ernesto Miranda, one of the petitioners in the case, is a list of rights that a law enforcement officer must read to anyone arrested for a criminal act.

Before the High Court's decision in Miranda, the law governing CUSTODIAL INTERROGATION of criminal suspects varied from state to state. In many states statements made by criminal defendants who were in custody and under interrogation by law enforcement officials were admissible at trial, even though the defendants had not been advised of their legal rights. If the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statements indicated that the suspect made the statements voluntarily, it did not matter that officers had not apprised the suspect of his legal rights.

The totality of the circumstances rule was effective even if a defendant was in custody. Generally a defendant was considered in custody if the person was not free to leave the presence of law enforcement officers. The basic legal rights for criminal defendants subjected to custodial interrogation included the FIFTH AMENDMENT right against SELF-INCRIMINATION and the RIGHT TO COUNSEL, this latter right established by the Court two years earlier in ESCOBEDO V. ILLINOIS, 378 U.S. 478, 84 S. Ct. 1758, 12 L. Ed. 2d 977 (1964).

The Miranda case involved four criminal defendants. Each of the defendants was appealing a conviction based in part on the failure of law enforcement officers to advise him, prior to custodial interrogation, of his right to an attorney or his right to remain silent.

Ernesto Miranda, the first defendant listed in the case, was arrested on March 18, 1963, at his home in Arizona and taken to a Phoenix police station. At the station witnesses identified Miranda as a rapist. Police then brought Miranda to an interrogation room where he was questioned by two police officers.

The officers did not tell Miranda that he had a right to an attorney, and Miranda confessed to the crime in two hours. Miranda wrote a confession on a piece of paper and signed the paper. At the top of the paper was a typed statement saying that Miranda had made the confession voluntarily and with full knowledge of his legal rights. Miranda was convicted of rape and KIDNAPPING in an Arizona state court. The circumstances involving the other three defendants were similar, all three confessing after a period of custodial interrogation without the assistance of legal counsel.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from all four defendants, joining the appeals into a single review. A divided Court affirmed the California Supreme Court's decision against one of the defendants and reversed the guilty verdicts against Miranda and the other two.

The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice EARL WARREN, began with a review of POLICE INTERROGATION activities and a detailed formulation of new rules for law enforcement personnel.

The opening of the Miranda majority opinion set a grave tone:

The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of American criminal JURISPRUDENCE: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime. More specifically, we deal with the admissibility of statements obtained from an individual who is subjected to custodial police interrogation and the necessity for procedures which assure that the individual is accorded his privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate himself.

The 1966 decision of the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona set forth specific rights for criminal defendants. Ernesto Miranda (right), one of the petitioners, with his Miranda v. Arizona set forth specific rights for criminal defendants. Ernesto Miranda (right), one of the petitioners, with his attorney, John J. Flynn.

The Court described in detail the unfairness and coercion used by some law enforcement officers engaged in interrogation. The majority also took note of deceptive practices in interrogation. For example, officers would put a suspect in a lineup and tell the person that he or she had been identified as a suspect in the instant crime as well as other crimes even though no such identifications had taken place. The suspect would confess to the instant crime to avoid being prosecuted for the fictitious crimes. The majority noted that these examples were exceptions, but it also stated that they were sufficiently widespread to warrant concern.

The Court then outlined the now-familiar procedures that law enforcement officers would have to follow thereafter. They would have to tell persons in custody that they have the right to remain silent, that they have the right to an attorney, that if they cannot afford an attorney the court will appoint an attorney, and that anything they say can be used in a criminal prosecution.

Ultimately, the Court held that statements made by a criminal suspect in custody would not be admissible at trial unless the suspect had made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his legal rights after being apprised of the various legal rights and after being given an opportunity to exercise those rights. The majority assured the law enforcement community that it did not intend to hamper criminal investigations and prosecutions. The Court pointed out that interrogations were still a perfectly legitimate investigative tool, that questioning a suspect without advising the suspect of legal rights before taking the suspect into custody was still legitimate, and that volunteered statements were likewise legitimate.

Justice TOM CLARK dissented to the decisions with respect to all defendants except the one whose conviction was upheld. According to Clark, the Court should have continued to accept the totality of the circumstances test for determining whether a defendant's statements or confession were made voluntarily. Clark concluded that only the defendant whose conviction was upheld gave a confession that was not voluntary.

Justices JOHN M. HARLAN, POTTER STEWART, and BYRON R. WHITE dissented in all the cases. In an opinion authored by Harlan, the dissent argued that the majority had exaggerated the evils of normal police questioning. According to Harlan, "Society has always paid a stiff price for law and order, and peaceful interrogation is not one of the dark moments of the law."

Another dissent by White argued that the majority had gone too far in imposing such procedural requirements on the law enforcement community. White predicted that the new procedures would prevent the early release of the truly innocent because they discourage statements that would quickly explain a situation. According to White, the procedures were "a deliberate calculus to prevent interrogations, to reduce the incidence of confessions and pleas of guilty and to increase the number of trials." "I have no desire whatsoever," wrote White, "to share the responsibility for any such impact on the present criminal process."

The Miranda case was remarkable in at least two ways. The opinion mandated important procedural changes that had to be followed by every law enforcement official across the country. In addition, the majority opinion's survey of interrogation tactics sent a rare notice to the law enforcement community that the Court was aware of, and would not tolerate, abuse in interrogation.

Two years after the decision in Miranda, congressional anger at the decision led to the passage of 18 U.S.C.A. § 3501 (1996), which restored voluntariness as a test for admitting confessions in federal court. The U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, however, under attorneys general of both major political parties, refused to enforce the provision, believing the law to be unconstitutional. The law lay dormant for several decades until the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1999 ruled that Congress had the constitutional authority to pass the law. United States v. Dickerson, 166 F.3d 667 (4th Cir. 1999).

The Supreme Court disagreed with the Fourth Circuit. In a 7–2 decision, the Court ruled that because Miranda had been based on the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, Congress did not have the constitutional authority to overrule the decision through legislation. Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 120 S. Ct. 2326, 147 L. Ed. 2d 405 (2000). In addition, the Court refused to overrule Miranda. Chief Justice WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST, who has been a frequent critic of the decision, wrote the majority opinion that upheld the decision. According to Rehnquist, the ruling had become "part of our national culture" with respect to law enforcement.

However, the Miranda holding has been pared down by the High Court. In 1985 the Court held that if a defendant makes an incriminating statement without the Miranda warning and then later receives the Miranda warning and confesses, the confession should not be excluded from trial (Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 105 S. Ct. 1285, 84 L. Ed. 2d 222 [1985]).

In Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292, 110 S. Ct. 2394, 110 L. Ed. 2d 243 (1990), the Court held that the Miranda warning is not required when a suspect who is unaware that he or she is speaking to a law enforcement officer gives a voluntary statement. In Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 113 S. Ct. 1745, 123 L. Ed. 2d 407 (1993), the Court held that a prisoner can not base a HABEAS CORPUS petition on the failure of law enforcement to give Miranda rights before interrogation.

In Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 106 S. Ct. 1135, 89 L. Ed. 2d 410 (1986), however, the Court appeared to return to the totality of the circumstances test. In Moran, a lawyer representing a criminal suspect, Brian Burbine, called the police station while Burbine was in custody. The lawyer was told that Burbine would not be questioned until the next day. In fact, Burbine was questioned that day, and he confessed, without requesting the lawyer and after being told his Miranda rights. According to the Court, the conduct of the police fell "short of the kind of misbehavior that so shocks the sensibilities of civilized society as to warrant a federal intrusion into the criminal processes of the States." Although law enforcement had not given Burbine a full opportunity to exercise his right to an attorney, a 6–3 majority of the Court concluded that, on the facts of the case, the incriminating statements were made voluntarily and that excluding them was therefore not required.

In 2002, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider a case involving the question of whether police officers are required to give criminal suspects their Miranda rights even if the suspects are never brought to trial. In 1997, Oliverio Martinez, a farm worker, was shot and injured by police officers during a struggle. A police sergeant, Ben Chavez, questioned Martinez for 45 minutes while the latter lay in a hospital bed. Chavez never gave Martinez his Miranda warnings, and Martinez insisted that he did not want to answer the questions.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that this questioning violated Martinez's constitutional rights, thus allowing him to recover under 42 U.S.C.A. SECTION 1983 (Supp. 2003). Martinez v. City of Oxford, 270 F.3d 852 (9th Cir. 2001). However, a sharply divided Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's decision on appeal. CHAVEZ V. MARTINEZ, 123 S. Ct. 1994, 155 L. Ed. 2d 984 (2003). Although the Court in Chavez did not overrule Miranda, the Court further limited the scope of the decision by holding that the failure by the officer to read Martinez's Miranda warnings did not violate Martinez's constitutional rights and could not be used as a basis for recovery under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. According to the Court, per Justice CLARENCE THOMAS, Miranda warnings merely offer protection against violations of constitutional rights, but the failure to provide these warnings is not itself a constitutional violation. Moreover, because Martinez was never required to be a witness against himself in a criminal trial, the fact that the officer asked coercive questions did not violate Martinez's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to the Court.

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