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 speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during police questioning, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you by the state. These words have preceded every arrest since Miranda v. Arizona 1966, informing every detained person of his rights before any type of formal police questioning begins. This issue has been a hot topic for decades causing arguments over whether or not the Miranda Warnings should or should not continue to be part of police practices, and judicial procedures. In this paper, the author intends to explore many aspects of the Miranda Warnings including; definition, history, importance to society, constitutional issues, and pro’s and con’s of having the Miranda Warnings incorporated into standard police procedures.
The Miranda Warning, is the requirement set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona June 13, 1966 that prior to the time of arrest and any interrogation of a person suspected of a crime, he/she must be told that he/she has: the right to remain silent, the right to be told that anything he/she said while in custody can and will be used against him/her in a court of law, and that he/she has the right to legal counsel. The Miranda Warnings inform the arrested of constitutional rights and are intended to prevent self-incrimination in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Neubauer 2002).
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” (Murphy1996). By neglecting to inform a suspect of his Constitutional rights the due course of legal proceedings according to the rules and forms established for the protection of rights has been violated. In other words, the suspect has been denied his right to protection from being unjustly deprived of life and liberty for failure to abide by due process of law (Ivers 2002).
The Constitution reserves several rights for suspects of a crime. One of the fears of the authors of the U.S. Constitution was that the government could act however it wanted to by saying that an individual was a suspected criminal. Just by a person being suspected of committing a crime doesn’t necessarily mean that their Constitutional rights are waived. The rights set forth by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are designed to ensure that those accused of a crime are assured of those rights (Mount 2003). Years ago police were able to take advantage of the fact that not everyone knows their rights by heart. In fact, it is likely that most people could only name a few of their rights as accused criminals, but not all of them. Law enforcement’s position at the time was that if the accused, for example, spoke about a crime without knowing that they did not need to, that it was the persons fault for disclosing the information and not invoking their fifth amendment right (Frieden 1999).
Disclosing information without knowledge of his rights was the center of the issue in Miranda v. Arizona. In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was accused of kidnapping and raping an 18 year-old mentally challenged woman. He was taken in by authorities for questioning and signed a confession to the crime. Which, turned out to be the state’s only piece of evidence linking him to the crime. Miranda was not told that he did not have to speak or that he could have a lawyer present during his questioning. At trial, Miranda’s lawyer tried to get the confession thrown out, however, the motion was denied. In 1966 the case came before the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the statements made to police could not be used as evidence because Ernesto Miranda was not informed of his Constitutional rights (Miranda v. Arizona 1966).
In a series of four cases, one case being Miranda v. Arizona in which the defendant was questioned by law enforcement in a room where he was cut of from the outside world. None of the defendants in any of the four cases was given a full and effective warning of his rights at the outset of the interrogation process. In all of the cases the questioning elicited oral admissions, and in three of them signed statements as well, which were admitted at their trials. All four cases ended with convictions. The Supreme Court held: 1.the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the Fifth Amendments privilege against self-incrimination (Miranda v. Arizona 1966). The Court also felt that the atmosphere and environment in which interrogation took place was inherently intimidating and worked to undermine the privilege against self-incrimination. Certain preventive measures needed to be taken to dispel the compulsion inherent in custodial surroundings, otherwise no statement obtained from a defendant could truly be the product of free choice. The defendants right against self-incrimination, is the essential mainstay of the United States adversary system and guarantees to the individual the “right to remain silent unless he chooses to speak in the unfettered exercise of his own will,” during a period of custodial interrogation as well as in the courts or during the course of other official investigations (Miranda v. Arizona 1966).
Today, for law enforcement officials, the Miranda warnings have been deeply absorbed into standard operating procedures. 38 years after Miranda v. Arizona was decided some have made attempts to overturn the decision, however, the majority of law enforcement officials feel that the decision should remain in effect. Miranda warnings have become extremely familiar to the majority of U.S. citizens over the past decades through movies and television. Miranda warnings have come to play a very unique and immensely important role in the nation’ s conception of the U.S. criminal justice system. Miranda warnings promote public confidence that our criminal justice system is fair (Frieden 1999).
Another benefit that Miranda warnings provide to law enforcement is due to that public confidence mentioned above, detectives who are in charge of interrogating a suspect can use Miranda in their tactics. Detectives begin by cultivating the suspect, getting him to make eye contact and engage in conversation. This along with the Miranda warnings induce the suspect to answer the detectives questions. A study showed that through the use of this tactic three out of four suspects waive their Miranda warnings. The next step the detective takes is friendly, informing the suspect that all they are looking for is the truth and will actually share some of the case information with the suspect. A “two pronged” approach is in effect here, one using negative incentives leaving the suspect feeling that the only plausible course of action is to confess to the crime. The other way utilizes positive incentives leading the suspect to believe that he/she will somehow feel good or may even benefit from a confession. Of a study of 122 interrogations using these tactics, 36% gave no incriminating statement, 23% gave an incriminating statement, 18% gave partial admission to the crime, and 24% gave a full confession. Suspects who incriminated themselves were more likely to be charged with a crime, less likely to have their case dismissed, more likely to enter a plea of guilty, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive harsher punishment than those who did not provide incriminating statements (Neubauer 2002).
On the other hand, Miranda can be very tough on law enforcement officials if they aren’t diligent in their efforts to ensure that a suspect is well aware of his right to remain silent, right to counsel, and that anything the suspect says can and will be used against him in court. Failure to inform a seemingly guilty suspect of his Constitutional rights can and usually will lead to the freeing of that suspect (Neubauer 2002).
In conclusion, there are many more positive’s than negative’s when taking a closer look at the Miranda warnings. There are several benefits for both the citizen and the law enforcement official. The citizen is protected due to the imposition of procedural safeguards effective enough to protect the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. The suspect must be made fully aware of his constitutional rights at the time of questioning. That suspect must also fully understand those rights in order for a statement that is truly of free choice can be given. The law enforcement official, is forced to be honest, restoring confidence in our criminal justice system that it is indeed honest and fair in it’s procedures. Overall, the decision made by the Supreme Court on June 13, 1966 has had a major impact on the way the United States Criminal Justice System operates today.
1. Frieden, T. (1999, November 10). Government files brief seeking to preserve Miranda warnings. CNN. Retrieved Saturday May 1, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.cnn.com/US/9911/02/miranda.warnings.01/
2. Ivers, G. (2002). American Constitutional Law: Power and Politics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
3. Miranda v. Arizona: Certiorari to The Supreme Court of Arizona. (1966). United States Supreme Court. Retrieved April 23, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.tourolaw.edu/patch/Miranda/
4.. Mount, S. (2003). The Miranda Warning. Retrieved Saturday May 1, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.usconstitution.net/miranda.html
5. Murphy, G. (1996, October 16). Historical Documents: The Bill of Rights. Cleveland Free-Net. Retrieved April 23, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.lcweb2.loc.gov/const/bor.html
6. Neubauer, D.W. (2002). America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth: Thomson Learning.