Miranda v. Arizona
One 1966 Supreme Court case changed the way people are arrested and questioned by police.
In Miranda v. Arizona, the Court combined several similar cases to establish a minimum standard of notifying suspects of their right to legal representation before responding to police questioning.
The Supreme Court has final say on questions of constitutionality and decisions made by superior courts of the states. In this case the Court decided that an admission of guilt, arrived at under duress of intense police interrogation, denied the Fifth Amendment rights of the suspect to avoid self-incrimination.
Court justices were not in unanimous agreement on this decision, with the vote nearly splitting the justices evenly. Critical dissenting opinions charged that the majority was guilty of judicial activism rather than a strict application of Constitutional rights.
Following the verdict, police across the country adopted reading a suspect his or her “Miranda Rights” as a step in the booking process, but subsequent Supreme Court cases eroded the foundation of the original decision.
The 1980 decision Rhode Island v. Innis allowed police to collect statements that suspects might make outside of an actual interrogation and to use that information in court.
In the 1984 case New York v. Quarles, the Supreme Court sided with the police, agreeing that in cases where public safety may be endangered a suspect’s statements may be used in court regardless of the suspect’s knowledge of his right to remain silent.
Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix in 1963 on suspicion that he had raped and kidnapped a woman. During police interrogation he signed a statement admitting his guilt. At his trial his defense attorney argued that Miranda was not offered an opportunity to consult with an attorney so his admission of guilt should be voided. The court disagreed, sentencing him to 20-30 years in prison for each charge.
On appeal, the Arizona supreme court agreed with the trial court regarding Miranda’s confession and affirmed the guilty verdict and sentence. Miranda’s attorney then filed the case with the U.S. Supreme Court.
After the landmark Supreme Court decision overturned Miranda’s sentence he was retried and convicted yet again following testimony made by his girlfriend.