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History of the Miranda Warning

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

Chances are you have at least heard the term “Miranda rights”, from hearing them in person or on any number of movies or television shows featuring arrests. Miranda rights refer to the rights you are entitled to as someone who has been placed under arrest. You may have also heard the term “Miranda Warning” or “being Mirandized’; these are related, but distinct, terms for when a police officer tells you your Miranda Rights upon arrest. The member of law enforcement who places you under arrest is required by law to formally and directly inform you of these rights by giving you the following statement;

“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?

A suspect must give a clear, affirmative response. Total silence is not sufficient to document that the suspect had been granted their rights to a Miranda warning, as it is possible they need translation, cannot hear or otherwise can not comprehend. A response must be on record before any questioning can proceed. In some states, including Alaska, Indiana, Oklahoma, Nevada and New Jersey, police departments may include an additional line to their Miranda warning of “We have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when you go to court.” The language of the statement may actually vary slightly from state to state.

The requirement for law enforcement to issue the Miranda warning stems from the Supreme Court Case Miranda v. Arizona in 1966. The defendant in this case, Ernesto Miranda, was a 24 year old high school dropout and a record of priors was accused and brought in for questioning in 1963 about the abduction, rape and robbery of an 18 year old woman. During this interrogation, Miranda confessed to the accusations. He even gave details matching the report of the victim and confirmed that she was his victim when brought into the room. His confession was used as the only evidence in a case against him in which he was convicted.

However, his lawyer, Moore, appealed the case and took it to the Arizona Supreme Court, questioning whether Miranda`s statement had been given voluntarily and whether the state had afforded him “all the safeguards to his rights provided by the Constitution.” The appeal argued that the defendant had not been directly and clearly informed of his rights to counsel and representation from a lawyer or against self-incrimination. Though the Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the appeal and said the arrest, interrogation and following conviction were legitimate, the case caught the attention of the ACLU.

The team of lawyers from the ACLU took over the case and appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Their appeal was founded on the rights guaranteed in the Fifth and Sixth amendments. The Sixth guarantees criminal defendants certain rights, including to representation by an attorney. The Fifth amendment also was used in the argument to a lesser extent, because it protects defendants from being compelled to bear witness against themselves or otherwise be forced to self-incriminate themselves.

Even with a written confession from Miranda, and though the signed statement did say he was aware of his legal rights, his legal team argued that what those rights entailed had not been made explicitly clear to him. Furthermore, under the duress of being arrested and detained, his confession could be considered coerced and should be deemed admissible.

Ultimately the final 5-4 decision was given by Justice Warren to overturn the decision of the Arizona Supreme Court and declared that his confession could not be used as evidence against him. The decision had a far reaching impact; the 60 page document formally outlined proper police procedures, including issuing the Miranda warning, in order to ensure all criminal defendants are made explicitly aware of their rights. By following this guideline, law enforcement could ensure future confessions and other evidence were not struck as admissible for insufficient legal procedures.

So when exactly must you be Mirandized? It is only required that law enforcement issues this warning if they intend to interrogate the suspect while in custody. Thus an arrest can occur without the warning, so long as the suspect is issued it prior to interrogation. Police are also allowed to ask questions prior to warning the individuals involved if public safety is at risk or in question. Any information gleaned during this is still usable as evidence in court. Additionally, if information is freely given before the warning has been given, it may still be used and hold up in court. Even with the warning, suspects are still required to comply with orders to give basic information such as their name or address or to comply with a search of their person. Something to also realize is that if you do decide to waive your right to an attorney and consent to questioning, you can invoke your rights at any point and “plead the fifth”. What you have already said can still be used, but you have a right to stop the interrogation and seek a lawyer at any point.


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