By Judge Birmingham
In Arizona in early March of 1963, a young woman was kidnapped and raped. The assailant was not known to the victim, but the victim’s brother got a partial license plate that eventually led the Phoenix police to a suspect. After the was identified in a lineup by the victim, detectives interrogated him for two hours. He confessed to the crime and signed the confession, indicating that he freely and voluntarily made the statement. He was never told that he had the “right to remain silent” or that he had the right to have an attorney present.
He wasn’t given those warnings because the law didn’t require the Police to give them to a suspect. Yet.
The man’s name was Ernest Miranda. He is the namesake for what we all now call the “Miranda” rights. He had an 8th grade education, a prior criminal record and was “mentally abnormal.” He was found competent to stand trial, and determined to be legally sane at the time of the crime. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape. He appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The law already required police to allow a suspect to speak to an attorney if he requested to consult with one. The new question was whether they should be told they have the right to speak to one prior to any questioning and without even asking for one.
By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court sided with Mr. Miranda and reversed his conviction, giving us the rights we are all now familiar with. The decision requiring police to inform suspects of these rights came down on June 13, 1966, authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren—a former prosecutor and eventual author of The Warren Commission Report on President Kennedy’s assassination.
Mr. Miranda was tried again—without the now unlawful confession—and again sentenced to 20 years. He eventually paroled out of prison. He was stabbed to death at a bar. Police eventually arrested the man who killed him.
When they brought him down for questioning, they read him the Miranda rights in order to get a lawful statement for the killing of Miranda himself.
As we continue our “Landmark” series next week, we’ll discuss the case that guarantees everyone the right to an attorney.