“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?” We have all heard this speech recited by one of our favorite TV or film cops. These are the Miranda Rights that ensure citizens being detained by police are aware of their constitutional rights. To explore the history of these rights, we have to go back to 1963 in Phoenix, Arizona.
In 1963, an 18-year-old girl was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Phoenix, Arizona. After investigating the crime, the police got a lead from the victim’s cousin. She had spotted a suspicious car driving by the crime scene. This car belonged to Ernesto Miranda, a 24-year-old high school dropout with a lengthy police record. Police went to Miranda’s residence and he came into the station willingly for questioning. After a two hour interrogation, followed by a line up, Miranda signed a written confession to the crime. Printed on this confession was the statement: “this confession was made with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”
Upon trial, this confession was used as key evidence in Miranda’s conviction. After his conviction, Miranda’s lawyer, Alvin Moore, appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. Moore worked to get the confession thrown out of evidence in the appeal trial, stating that his client had, in fact, not been informed of his right to remain silent or his right to an attorney, and that his confession was not made willingly. This argument proved unsuccessful as the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the previous conviction noting that Miranda had been fully aware of his rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union then got involved. Seeing this as an infringement on Ernesto’s constitutional rights, they took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lawyers argued that by not informing Ernesto of his rights prior to interrogation, police were denying him his Sixth Amendment rights which ensure the rights of criminal defendants and the right to an attorney. They also argued Miranda was denied his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The cornerstone of the argument was that Miranda was not informed of his rights; and therefore, the confession lost credibility, was not obtained legally, and should be thrown out of his case.
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Miranda’s conviction on the grounds that he had been denied his rights. It was in this ruling that Chief Justice Earl Warren outlined a procedure to be used by police officers to guarantee that all those detained are aware of their rights protected under the United States Constitution. Thus, the Miranda Rights were born. Police officers began carrying cards with the Miranda Rights on them and reading them word for word to those arrested.
As for Ernesto Miranda, he was retried again without his signed written confession. Ultimately, the evidence of the case and his ex-girlfriend’s testimony that outlined every detail Miranda confided in her about the case sealed his fate. Ernesto was convicted yet again and sentenced to 20-30 years in prison. In December 1975, he was let out on parole. Just over a month later he was fatally stabbed in a bar fight in Phoenix. Suspects were detained in the case and read their Miranda rights. After learning of their right to remain silent, all suspects refused to answer police questions, and in a rather poetic ending, no one was ever convicted for Ernesto Miranda’s murder.