“You have the right to remain silent ...” Those words have been repeated in so many television police shows and movies that even the most law-abiding citizen probably has them memorized. However, it wasn’t until 1966 that “mirandizing” became part of the detention process, as a result of the Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court ruling.
Getting It Started
The Miranda case had its origins in 1963, when Ernesto Miranda was arrested for robbery, kidnapping and rape. During his interrogation, Miranda confessed to the crimes, providing prosecutors with the only evidence presented to the jury. Miranda was ultimately convicted. He appealed the conviction on the grounds that the interrogating officers did not adequately inform him of his rights against self-incrimination and to have an attorney present during the questioning.
Asking the Key Question
The justices focused on whether or not custodial interrogation requires the police to remind the accused of his rights against self-incrimination and his right to have counsel present. Custodial interrogation is the questioning that takes place after someone has been taken into custody. The Fifth Amendment protects against being forced to testify against yourself, and the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel in criminal cases.
The Majority Opinion
In a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that law enforcement officers must inform the accused of his right to avoid being “compelled…to be a witness against himself,” as the Constitution states. If this warning is not given, prosecutors may not use statements from police interrogations. The court went further in providing very precise language that must be included in the statement of rights. In most jurisdictions, officers read the words from a card, rather than relying on memory. The warning states, “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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”
The Minority Opinion
Justice Marshall Harlan wrote the dissenting opinion, along with Justice Potter Stewart and Justice Byron White. In essence, Justice Harlan said that the new requirements would not protect due process rights against coercion because it would be simple to falsely report giving the warning. He also said that an oral reminder of rights would not be a serious interruption to the interrogation process, but to mandate "an express waiver by the suspect and an end to questioning when he demurs" would significantly hamper questioning by investigators.
Limiting the Effects
While the ruling clearly protects defendants’ rights, it also limits attempts to manipulate the law. For example, the right to remain silent cannot be exercised retroactively. If a defendant regrets answers given under questioning, he cannot “take back” what was said. Also, if the accused invokes his right to remain silent or to have an attorney present, police officers may still continue to question him about other unrelated matters. Additionally, the accused's request for an attorney must be unequivocal, including a statement that he will not answer anything else without an attorney present. Finally, if the issue at hand is a matter of imminent public safety, the need to protect the community overrides the rights of the individual.
- UT Chicago-Kent College of Law Oyez: Miranda v. Arizona
- PBS: The Supreme Court Landmark Cases: Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Miranda v. Arizona
- United States Courts: Facts and Case Summary
- Street Law, Inc.: Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court: Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
- Case Briefs: Miranda v. Arizona
- National Paralegal College: Miranda v. Arizona
- Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics: Annenberg Classroom: The Right to Remain Silent: Miranda v. Arizona
- Bill of Rights Institute: Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
- Photo Credit Travel_Bug/iStock/Getty Images
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