I bet you have heard of the Miranda Warning, but do you know how it came about?
“You have the
right to remain silent.” You’ve probably heard those words, which are part of
the Miranda warning, on countless TV shows following a criminal suspect’s
arrest. Thanks to a 1966 landmark ruling by the U.S.
Supreme Court in the case
of Miranda v. Arizona, the warning—which also lets a person know that anything
he says can be used against him in court, and that he has a right to an
attorney and to have one provided by the state if he can’t afford one—must be given
to someone in police custody before he can be questioned. The warning is named
for a real person, Ernesto Miranda.
Miranda was arrested for the kidnapping and rape of a woman in Phoenix. After
being interrogated by law enforcement officials for several hours, he admitted
to the crimes then signed a written confession. When Miranda’s case went to
trial, his confession was the main evidence used against him. However, his
lawyer argued the confession should be tossed out because his client didn’t
have an attorney present during questioning and hadn’t fully understood his
rights when he confessed—and therefore the confession wasn’t voluntary.
objection was overruled and Miranda was found guilty and sentenced to 20 to 30
years behind bars. The Arizona Supreme Court later upheld his conviction. The
U.S. Supreme Court then heard the case and in 1966 ruled 5-4 in favor of
reversing Miranda’s conviction, declaring his confession invalid because he
hadn’t been informed by police of his constitutional rights. The ruling gave
rise to the Miranda warning, which became standard police procedure in the
United States, even as it proved controversial, with critics charging it
weakened the power of law enforcement to obtain confessions.
In 1967, Ernesto
Miranda was retried—this time, without his confession used as evidence—and
convicted. After being paroled in 1972, he was stabbed to death four years
later in a bar fight.