Landmark Miranda case celebrates its half-century anniversary


Fifty years ago this month, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart asked Atty. John J. Flynn, representing Ernesto Miranda before the court, what rights an accused should be advised of while in custody. Flynn replied, “[H]e had a right not to incriminate himself, that he had the right not to make any statement, that he had a right to be free from further questioning ... to be represented adequately by counsel in court, that if he was too indigent and poor to employ counsel, that the state would furnish him counsel.”

So was born Miranda v. Arizona, the landmark Supreme Court decision that has become a part of American culture. Miranda’s conversion from legal holding to cultural icon is due mainly to the nation’s insatiable appetite for television crime dramas. Everyone with a TV has heard Miranda warnings.

What did Miranda do to earn his place in the American consciousness? In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested on a robbery charge. While in the midst of an interrogation by police, he confessed raping an 18-year-old woman. At trial, prosecutors offered his confession into evidence. Miranda was convicted of rape and sentenced to prison. Miranda appealed, and his case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miranda and excluded his confession. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the court’s opinion finding a confession would be barred under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments unless a suspect had been made aware of his rights and the suspect had waived them. Warren made it clear, “If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease ... If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.”

Far from pristine

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Miranda, it is important to note that the decision has remained far from pristine over the years. Nor was the ruling placed on a pedestal beyond the reach an activist courts – quite the contrary – the U.S. Supreme Court has continually tested, and at times, expanded and restricted, the decision.

For instance, in 1981 the Edwards rule was established. The court held once an accused invoked his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation a valid waiver of that right could not be later established. The rule created a presumption that once a suspect invoked his right to the presence of counsel, any waiver of that right in response to a subsequent police attempt at custodial interrogation was involuntary.

That changed in 2010. In a case out of Maryland, the court established a bright-line rule finding if at least 14 days passed from the time the suspect invoked his rights under Miranda, the police could again initiate an interrogation of the suspect.

Although the Miranda warnings are etched in nearly everyone’s consciousness, the Supreme Court found that police do not have to use those magical words to get the point across. In a 2010 case out of Florida, the court said as long as the rights are articulated to a suspect in a reasonable manner and the rights are understood, they are sufficient.

GINSBURG’S VIEW

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “The four warnings Miranda requires are invariable, but this court has not dictated the words in which the essential information must be conveyed.”

Then in 2011, the Supreme Court decided a North Carolina case establishing that law enforcement must consider a suspect’s juvenile status when carrying out the requirements of Miranda. “It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave ... we hold that a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Although Miranda has been revered for half a century, its evolution may continue for years to come.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino)

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