You Have the Right to Read this Article: Miranda v. Arizona

The Earl Warren Supreme Court that decided Miranda V. Arizona | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law….” This phrase is heard in many different places in modern culture. Movies, songs, and TV shows use this phrase in police-themed entertainment. However, these Miranda Rights were not always as important as they are today.

Miranda rights were established after Miranda v. Arizona went before the Supreme Court on February 28, 1966. The justices ruled 5-4 in favor of establishing Miranda Rights.1 The Miranda decision established that 5th-amendment protections against self-incrimination extend outside of formal court proceedings. It created devices to protect a suspect from the coercive nature of police interrogation rooms, and it gave the framework of the Miranda Rights used today. The court did not specify how the rights had to be administered, or as it has come to be called, “Mirandizing.”2 These rights seemed appropriate to the Supreme Court justices at the time they were established.

However, the world changes, and questions haven risen about whether they still uphold constitutional protections adequately. That the Miranda Rights have been tried and tested through many cases proves that they have been efficient in upholding constitutional rights. This is also evident because when the Supreme Court had the chance to remove Miranda Rights, they elected not to, instead reaffirming these rights.3

The American Constitution | Courtesy of AF.mil

Since they were established in 1966, Miranda Rights have not dramatically changed. The rights are supposed to provide protective assurances to a suspect in custody charged with a crime. Before Miranda Rights, these protections were in the constitution but were not very specific. For example, the Bill of Rights contains the 5th Amendment which states “No person shall be compelled in any criminal to be a witness against himself,” which gives the right to self-incrimination. However, before Miranda Rights, this right was interpreted by the courts to protect from self-incrimination in the courtroom only. Miranda changed that by extending that right to every situation in which someone may be compelled to incriminate themselves.4

The Miranda Decision also guarantees, “An individual swept from familiar surroundings into police custody, surrounded by antagonistic forces, and subjected to the techniques of persuasion described in the [standard police interrogation manuals] cannot be otherwise than under compulsion to speak.” This means that someone under police custody is immediately put in a state of intimidation, which nullifies any statement acquired during this time. The whole intimidation process contradicted the 5th Amendment Privilege. So, being put in a coercive environment, leading to the production of self-incriminating testimony, was now deemed illegal.5

To prevent this feeling of intimidation and the nullifying of any statement said in a custodial environment, the court established Miranda Rights. These familiar four-part rights include, “the right to remain silent, anything you say in court can and will be used against you in court. You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you.” However, the Court did not require an exact method of how to inform a suspect their Miranda Rights. Every police station can distribute these rights how they please. The two most common methods are having the rights read to the suspect or giving them a written statement, which requires them to check off and sign that they understand their rights. After being given their rights, the suspects have the opportunity to waive their rights and communicate with the police, and they also have the right to stop talking to the police at any time. The suspect’s acknowledgement of their rights not only protects the suspect, but also the police officers, by removing liability.6

The Supreme Court Building where the Miranda v. Arizona Case was heard | Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the processing of a criminal, the Miranda Rights in combination with processing paperwork have created the new norm for police officers. For example, in regular standard procedure a police officer may make an arrest and take the suspect into custody. He then must read the suspect his or her Miranda Rights at any time between the arrest and any attempt at an interrogation. Most police officers will state their rights as soon as possible so they can begin questioning. The officer then can ask the suspect to waive their right to have an attorney present during questioning and take down any statement he or she wants to give. However, this waiver must be made intelligently and with full knowledge, and as stated in the majority opinion by Chief Justice Warren, “The accused who does not know his rights and therefore does not make a request may be the person who most needs counsel.”7 This procedure is how the court intended Miranda Rights to be used during this case fifty-two years ago. There have been few changes to them since.8

Since 1966, the Supreme Court has heard a few cases regarding Miranda Rights. However, when they heard the case of Dickerson v. United States in 2000, the Court had another colossal decision to make. The Court heard the case because of the 3501 Statute that Congress established, which gave prosecutors the ability to overrule Miranda Rights. This statute was never invoked by prosecutors to win a case in the 33 years it was available, because they knew of its power to undermine Miranda. The Supreme Court took this case because the saw the imbalance between the Miranda Rights and the 3501 Statute. They ruled in favor of Miranda and declared the 3501 Statute unconstitutional. They also stated that Congress cannot pass statutes that undermine the Court’s power to rule on Constitutional Rights.9

These examples show how vital Miranda rights have been to the Criminal Justice System. However, as with every decision made, there are always some complaints. One of the contingencies of Miranda states that confessions cannot be achieved with methods of coercion. Opposers of Miranda Rights believe that the thought process behind what is considered “coercion,” is discretionary.10 Every judge may look at what is considered “coercion” differently. For example, in the case of John W. Hinckley Jr., who was arrested for the attempted murder of President Ronald Reagan, he was taken to a local police station in Washington D.C. for questioning where he was read his Miranda Rights three times in a two-hour period. He proceeded to sign the waiver of rights form after he checked “yes” to understanding his rights. He then said he wanted to talk to the police but wanted to talk to his father’s lawyer in Dallas first. He was then taken to the FBI station where he was read his rights a fourth time where he waived his rights, except talking to the police before consulting a lawyer. He then went on to willfully answer some “background” questions asked by the FBI agents. This “background” information was suppressed by the D.C. District Court, and the appellate court also suppressed this “background” information saying it was in violation of Miranda. In this case, the police officers had no bad intentions of seeking a confession, but it can be understood as to how there are some opposers to Miranda, saying it protects the suspects too much.11

The coercive nature of interrogation room | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After seeing how Miranda’s procedures have lasted throughout the years, as well as they were kept, and reaffirmed. These rights not only protect suspects, but they also keep society’s best interests in mind as stated in Moran v. Burbine. This case stated and put in place safeguards to Miranda Rights that prevented a level of overreaching. There is so much the Supreme Court can do to protect against the misuse of a procedure. In the end, Miranda Rights should continue as a fundamental procedure in the American justice system for a very long time. They have been intertwined with police procedure for 52 years now, and if put on trial, the right to remain silent is a constitutional right that cannot be undermined.

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, July 1998, s.v. “Miranda v. Arizona.”
  2.  Wikipedia, 2018, s.v. “Miranda v. Arizona.
  3.  Sheldon H. Elsen; Arthur Rosett, “Protections for the Suspect under Miranda v. Arizona,” Columbia Law Review 67, no. 4 (April 1967): 649.
  4. Yale Kasmir, “Miranda v. United States,” In The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, 2d ed., edited by K. L. Hall and J.W.Ely Jr., (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), 225.
  5.  Yale Kasmir, “Miranda v. United States,” In The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, 2d ed., edited by K. L. Hall and J.W.Ely Jr., (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), 226.
  6. Yale Kasmir, “Miranda v. United States,” In The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, 2d ed., edited by K. L. Hall and J.W.Ely Jr. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), 227.
  7. Randy Wagner, Miranda V. Arizona, 1966, (Salem Press, Inc., 2008), 1820.
  8. Ashley G. Blackburn, Miranda v. Arizona (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2009), 526.
  9. Erwin Chemerinsky, “The Court Should Have Remained Silent: Why the Court Erred in Deciding Dickerson v. United States,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 149, no. 1 (2000), 287-288.
  10. George C. Thomas, and Richard A. Leo, “The Effects of Miranda v. Arizona: “Embedded” in Our National Culture?” Crime and Justice 29(2002): 205.
  11. Fred E. Inbau, “Over-Reaction: The Mischief of Miranda v. Arizona,” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 89, no. 4 (1999): 1449-1452.
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2 Comments

  • I have always heard the term Marianda rights but had never looked into them. I am glad that I have the protection against self incrimination and that I can’t be coerced. It is especially interesting to learn about the nature of interrogation rooms and the way they are used to coerce people. Overall good job and keep up the good work I look forward to reading more from you.

  • The natural flow of this article one could argue thoroughly enjoyable. As a SCOTUS junkie myself it was gratifying to see an article that talked about Human Rights abuse that is consistently being abused. Miranda Rights not only allowed for the layman to understand their rights in literally any situation, but it also empowered them to learn more about the law. While I can understand that the society we live in is not one that enables regular citizens to realize the full extent of the law – the creation of the Miranda Rights allowed for this to happen. I appreciated hearing the legislative/judicial intent that the Miranda Rights were meant to create. Seeing the course of history that the SCOTUS has taken about the Miranda Rights and how long they have lasted is a pleasure to read.

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