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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Miranda Case

     On June 13, 1966, by a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court rendered the landmark Miranda v. Arizona decision. Based on the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which states that "No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," Miranda expanded the meaning of these simple words.

     The court held that even voluntary confessions by a suspect in police custody would no longer be admissible as evidence, unless the police first warned the suspect that (1) he had the right to remain silent, (2) anything he said might be used against him in court, (3) he had the immediate right to a lawyer, and (4) he could get a free lawyer if he couldn't afford one. The person being interrogated then had to expressly waive those rights before any questioning could proceed. Should interrogators make the slightest omission or error in this warning, evidence subsequently acquired from the suspect could be declared inadmissible.

     In this single decision, four veteran criminals, convicted after voluntarily confessing to separate crimes, had their convictions overturned. The first was a three-time convict who admitted to a robbery after being identified by two victims. The second forged stolen checks from a purse-snatching in which the victim was killed. The third, a veteran bank robber, confessed after being told of his rights, but didn't explicitly waive them. The fourth, arrested for kidnapping and rape, was identified by his victim, and later confessed "with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding that any statement I make may be used against me." He hadn't, however, been formally advised of his right to have a lawyer present.

     Even though these confessions weren't "involuntary in traditional terms," writes Chief Justice Earl Warren for the majority, "in none of these cases did the officers undertake to afford the appropriate safeguards…to insure that the statements were truly the product of a free choice."

    According to the Court's majority opinion, "In each of these cases, the defendant was thrust into an unfamiliar atmosphere and run through menacing police interrogation procedures. The potentiality for compulsion is forcefully apparent, for example…where the indigent Mexican defendant was a seriously disturbed individual with pronounced sexual fantasies [author's note: the man had been judged mentally competent to stand trial], and where the defendant was an indigent Los Angeles Negro who had dropped out of school in the sixth grade."

Robert James Bidinotto, "Subverting Justice," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinatto, ed., 1994

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