Miranda v. Arizona

384 U.S. 436 (1966)

"You have the right to remain silent. . ."

Case Summary

In March 1963, an 18-year-old female in Phoenix, Arizona, was kidnapped and raped. After investigation, the police arrested Ernesto Miranda at his Phoenix home. At the police station, Miranda was placed in a lineup. The victim could not positively identify Miranda as the individual who had raped her. The police then took Miranda into an interrogation room and questioned him for two hours, after which he confessed to having committed the crime. Although detectives said they neither threatened Miranda nor promised him leniency, Miranda told a different story.

After Miranda’s confession, detectives brought the victim into the room. One of the detectives asked Miranda if this was the person he had raped. Miranda looked at her and said, “That’s the girl.” When asked to put his confession into a written statement, Miranda agreed. Across the top of the statement was a typewritten disclaimer saying that the suspect was confessing voluntarily, without threats or promises of immunity, and “with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.” He signed the disclaimer. Miranda asserted that he repeatedly asked for a lawyer during the questioning but was refused.

The written confession was introduced as evidence in an Arizona trial court where Miranda was tried and found guilty of kidnapping and rape and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. His conviction was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court. When he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Miranda did not appeal on the basis that his confession was false or coerced. Instead, he argued that he would not have confessed if he had been advised of his right to remain silent and of his right to an attorney. Lawyers for the state argued that Miranda could have asked for an attorney at any time but had not done so and that his confession had been freely given.

Legal Issue

The Court considered the following question:

Under the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process of law clause, prior to any questioning must a suspect taken into custody by the police be warned of certain rights?


Warren Court (1953-1969)

By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Miranda's conviction, reasoning that his Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law had been violated. In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote: “The use of physical brutality and violence is not, unfortunately, relegated to the past or to any part of the country. Again we stress that the modern practice of in-custody interrogation is psychologically rather than physically oriented … this Court has recognized that coercion can be mental as well as physical, and that the blood of the accused is not the only hallmark of an unconstitutional inquisition.” He then announced that in order for a suspect's rights to be fully protected, certain safeguards must be employed: “We hold that when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities and is subjected to questioning, the privilege against self-incrimination is jeopardized. Procedural safeguards must be employed to protect the privilege, and unless other fully effective means are adopted to notify the person of his right of silence and to assure that the exercise of the right will be scrupulously honored, the following measures are required. He must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires. Opportunity to exercise these rights must be afforded to him throughout the interrogation. After such warnings have been given, and such opportunity afforded him, the individual may knowingly and intelligently waive these rights and agree to answer questions or make a statement. But unless and until such warnings and waiver are demonstrated by the prosecution at trial, no evidence obtained as a result of interrogation can be used against him.”

Justice John Marshall Harlan III dissented and in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Potter Stewart and Byron White wrote: “The Court portrays the evils of normal police questioning in terms which I think are exaggerated. Society has always paid a stiff price for law and order …”

Justice Byron White, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Potter Stewart and Tom Clark, wrote: “There is the not-so-subtle overtone of the opinion — that it is inherently wrong for the police to gather evidence from the accused himself. And this is precisely the nub of this dissent. I see nothing wrong or immoral, and certainly nothing unconstitutional, with the police asking a suspect whom they have reasonable cause to arrest whether or not he killed his wife or with confronting him with the evidence on which the arrest was based, at least where he has been plainly advised that he may remain completely silent. … The most basic function of any Government is to provide for the security of the individual and of his property. These ends of society are served by the criminal law which for the most part is aimed at the prevention of crime.” 

FOLLOW-UP: Miranda was later retried, but this time the state did not introduce his written confession since it had been taken without his having voluntarily waived what are now called "the Miranda rights." However, other evidence was sufficient, and he was convicted and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. He was paroled in 1972 but was again arrested while on parole in July 1974 on charges of possession of dangerous drugs and a firearm. However, these charges were dropped. In 1978 Ernesto Miranda was stabbed to death in a fight in a Phoenix bar. As police officers placed the man accused of killing Miranda in the back of their cruiser, one of them pulled out a small card with words printed in English on one side and Spanish on the other and began to read: “You have the right to remain silent………”



The Oyez Project: Oral Argument, Miranda v. Arizona [audio]

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