Printer Friendly

'You have the right to remain silent': the Supreme Court's Miranda ruling 50 years ago established key rights for criminal suspects.

When officers brought him to a Phoenix, Arizona, police station on March 13, 1963, 22-year-old Ernesto Miranda insisted he had nothing to do with the crime.

An 18-year-old girl had been kidnapped a week earlier and taken to the Arizona desert, where she was raped. Though the victim had provided descriptions that seemed to match Miranda and the car he drove, she was unable to definitively identify him in a lineup. With no lawyer present, the police interrogated Miranda for roughly two hours. After they falsely told him that the victim had in fact identified him, Miranda confessed.

Whether that confession was legal, however, became the subject of a lawsuit that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court's ruling, in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), established some of the most important rights for criminal suspects in the United States, including that police must inform them of their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney (see "The Miranda Warnings," facing page).

"The Miranda ruling is the most important criminal procedural case in the history of criminal process," says Gary Stuart, the author of Miranda: The Story of America's Right to Remain Silent. "It protects millions and millions of people."

Locked in a Room, No Food

Prior to Miranda, which was actually four related cases bundled together, most people understood the Fifth Amendment to mean that someone testifying in court has a right to refuse to answer questions from the prosecution or defense (often referred to as "taking the Fifth"). But the language of the Fifth Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, didn't make clear whether people could also refuse to talk when they're in police custody, and officers often took advantage of that confusion.

"[Police] would bring defendants into a locked room, not give them food, " says Shima Baradaran Baughman, a law professor at the University of Utah. "They didn't know they had a lawyer, and then they would confess to a crime" that they may or may not have committed. Such practices were widespread in the South, particularly with poor, uneducated minorities who often didn't understand their rights.

Defense lawyers would later contest such confessions, and judges would be left to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to admit them into evidence during a trial. With the Miranda ruling--a tightly split S-to-4 decision--the Court said for the first time that not only do suspects in police custody have the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment and the right to an attorney under the Sixth Amendment, but also that police had to inform suspects of those rights.

"What the Court said," says Baradaran Baughman, "was, 'Look, we're going to make a rule ... that says that anybody arrested is read the exact same language so everybody knows that you have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney, so that people don't speak in those situations' " if they don't want to. The Court also said that if police fail to "Mirandize" a suspect, any statement or confession that a suspect makes can't be used as evidence in court.

The majority of the Justices agreed that reading the Miranda warnings to suspects would create some degree of balance during police interrogations, which are inherently intimidating encounters.

From the start, however, the ruling had its critics. Many police officers and prosecutors thought that requiring police to read Miranda warnings would "handcuff" law enforcement, severely limiting their ability to solve crimes. In his dissenting opinion, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote that "the decision of the Court represents poor constitutional law and entails harmful consequences for the country at large."

'Do You Understand These Rights?'

Fifty years after the landmark ruling, the Miranda warnings are such a standard part of police practice that it's rare to find instances in which police fail to read them to suspects. The warnings have also become such a cliche of TV and movie crime dramas that nearly every American is aware of the right to remain silent. And yet, experts say, roughly 80 percent of suspects waive their Miranda rights, often talking themselves into prison.

"In practice, Miranda doesn't kill a lot of cases," says Jack Chin, a law professor at the University of California, Davis. "Because if you're dealing with a really sophisticated individual, they already know about the Fifth Amendment with or without Miranda.... But unsophisticated people don't understand that, and they still don't understand it after the Miranda warnings."

Today, at the heart of most contested confessions is the question of whether the person who waived his Miranda rights really understood them in the first place.

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, thinks we need a better system to ensure that suspects actually know what the Miranda warnings mean, especially "vulnerable suspects," like juveniles (see "J.D.B. v. North Carolina," facing page). He proposes a "dialogue approach" in which police would not only have to read the Miranda warnings to suspects but also have suspects restate the rights in their own words and confirm that they understand the principles behind them and what's at stake in waiving them.

As for Ernesto Miranda, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, and his case was retried. This time, his confession could not be entered into evidence, but once again, a jury found him guilty. The clincher was testimony from Miranda's ex-girlfriend, who told the jury that he'd confessed to her. He was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison and was released on parole in 1972.

By then, Miranda's name had achieved notoriety. He profited from it slightly by selling autographed Miranda cards-which police use to read the warnings--for about $2 a piece. But his days were numbered. In January 1976, during a poker game at a Phoenix bar, Miranda got into a brawl, was stabbed in the neck and chest, and died.

Police identified two suspects in connection with his killing, according to Stuart, the author of the book about Miranda. Both were read their Miranda rights; both waived them and answered police questions. But by the time police got warrants for their arrest, they had fled town.

In the end, neither of the two suspects, nor anyone else, was ever brought to justice for Miranda's death. But his name lives on every time a criminal suspect is arrested, handcuffed, and informed that he has the right to remain silent.


Since the 1966 Supreme Court ruling, police must read suspects some version of these rights

Before we ask you any questions, you must understand your rights.

You have the right to remain silent.

Anything you say can he used against you in court.

You have the right to talk to a lawyer] for advice before we ask you any questions.

You have a right to have a lawyer with you during the questioning.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.

If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering at any time.

Do you understand these rights? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me now?


Here are some other important Supreme Court rulings that clarify Americans' rights with the police

2014 Riley v. California

* Police need your consent or a warrant from a judge to search your phone.

David Riley was pulled over by San Diego police in 2009 because he was driving a car with expired registration tags. At the traffic stop, police found two loaded guns. They also searched his smartphone and found gang-related texts and videos. They arrested Riley and seized his phone.

Later, police found Information on Riley's phone linking him to a shooting. Riley was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

The Supreme Court overturned Riley's conviction. The Justices ruled that under the Fourth Amendment, police need a suspect's permission or a warrant from a judge to search the suspect's phone--just as they do to search someone's home.

Smartphones contain sensitive Information, from bank records to private photos. "The fact that technology now allows an Individual to carry such information in his hand," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote In his opinion, "does not make the Information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought."

2012 United States v. Jones

* Police need a search warrant to track a suspect using a GPS device.

Police suspected Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner in Washington, D.C., of being part of a cocaine-selling operation. They placed a GPS device on his Jeep without a search warrant and without his consent, and followed his movements for a month. Police gathered enough evidence to arrest Jones, and at his trial he was found guilty of conspiring to sell cocaine and sentenced to life in prison.

On appeal, Jones argued that the GPS device constituted a warrantless search and violated his Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures."

The Supreme Court decided unanimously In Jones's favor, ruling that tracking a person's movements with a GPS device requires a warrant.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor added that the need for such warrants Is especially vital in the digital age, with electronic surveillance now so cheap and easy to use.

2011 J.D.B. v. North Carolina

* Because they're easily intimidated by police, juveniles may have extra Miranda protections.

J.D.B., a 13-year-old seventh-grader in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was questioned by police after he was spotted near the sites of two home break-ins. Five days later, police pulled him out of class and took him to a school conference room to question him. They didn't read J.D.B. his Miranda warnings, and he confessed. Only after his confession was he told he could leave the room at any time without answering further questions. He was charged with breaking and entering and larceny.

J.D.B.'s lawyer argued that the confession was inadmissible because police didn't read the boy his Miranda warnings. North Carolina courts ruled that because J.D.B. was questioned in his own school rather than in "police custody," he didn't have to be Mirandized.

The Supreme Court disagreed. It said that age may be considered when determining whether a minor is "in custody." In other words, because kids may be more afraid of police than adults are, their Miranda rights may apply in less official encounters with police.

2006 Georgia v. Randolph

* To search your home without a warrant, police need consent from all residents who are present.

After a domestic dispute, Scott Randolph's estranged wife, Janet, gave police permission to search their home in Americus, Georgia, for drugs. Scott, however, refused. Police searched the house and found drug paraphernalia. They later returned with a search warrant and found further evidence of drug use.

Scott was indicted for cocaine possession.

At his trial, Scott moved to suppress the evidence, since it was obtained without his consent. His motion was denied, but he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Court ruled that police can't conduct a warrantless search of a home if one resident who is present refuses--even if another resident agrees. However, if Scott had not been home, Janet's consent would have been sufficient.

1985 New Jersey v. T.L.O.

* Unlike police, school officials may search your stuff without a warrant.

A teacher caught T.L.O. (Terry), a 14-year-old freshman in Piscataway,- New Jersey, smoking in a school bathroom. A school official searched Terry's purse and found a pack of cigarettes, rolling papers, and marijuana. When the police arrived, Terry admitted to selling drugs at school. She was convicted of possession of marijuana and placed on probation. Terry appealed, claiming her Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.

The Supreme Court later sided with the school, ruling that school officials may search a student's property, including backpacks and lockers, if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that a school rule has been broken, or a student has committed, or is in the process of committing, a crime.

Students have "legitimate expectations of privacy," the Court said, but it must be balanced with the school's responsibility to maintain a safe learning environment. *

With reporting by Quincey Trigillo


Lexile level: 1330L

'You Have the Right to Remain Silent'

The Supreme Court's 1966 Miranda ruling established key rights for criminal suspects in the United States.

Before Reading

1 List Vocabulary: Share with students the challenging general and domain-specific vocabulary for this article. Encourage them to use context to Infer meanings as they read and to later verify those Inferences by consulting a dictionary. If desired, distribute or project the Word Watch activity to guide students through this process.

2 Engage: Discuss what students know about the Miranda warning from movies and TV dramas.

Analyze the Article

3 Read and Discuss: Ask students to read the Upfront article about the Miranda ruling. Review why the article is a secondary source. (It was written in modern times by someone who didn't personally experience or witness the events.) Then pose critical-thinking questions:

* What parts of the U.S. Constitution did the Supreme Court apply in the case Miranda v. Arizona?

(The Court applied the Fifth Amendment, which states that a person can't be forced to be a witness against oneself, to suspects' encounters with police. It also applied the Sixth Amendment, which gives individuals the right to an attorney in criminal proceedings.)

* The article notes that it's now very rare for police to fail to read the Miranda warning to suspects. Why do you think that is so? (Police are well aware that any statement or confession that a suspect makes without first being Mirandized can't be entered as evidence if the case goes to trial. The Miranda warning has thus become a routine part of police work.)

* Does it surprise you that 80 percent of suspects waive their Miranda rights? Why do you think the figure is so high? (Answers will vary but may include: Suspects who are innocent may believe they have nothing to worry about. Some suspects may not fully understand the Miranda warning as it is read to them.)

* What do you think the author means by "vulnerable suspects"? Do you think some groups should be Mirandized differently than regular suspects? Explain.

(Vulnerable suspects are juveniles and others who may not understand the Miranda warning. Opinions will vary on how such suspects should be handled.)

4 Integrate the Primary Source: Project or distribute the PDF 'A Right to Remain Silent' (p. 13 of this Teacher's Guide), which features an annotated excerpt from the majority opinion in Miranda v. Arizona, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Discuss what makes it a primary source. (It was written by the Court in 1966 about a case from that time.) Have students read it and answer the following questions (which appear on the PDF without answers). Discuss.

* What is the primary purpose of this Supreme Court opinion essay? Who do you think is the main audience? (The Court's purpose is to explain its ruling in Miranda v. Arizona. The main audience is people involved in the criminal justice system, including police and the nation's lower courts.)

* Describe Chief Justice Warren's tone in the essay.

(The tone in the majority opinion can be described as straightforward and authoritative.)

* A safeguard is a step taken to protect a person or thing. What are the "procedural safeguards" listed in this court opinion? Who or what do they protect?

(The safeguards described here are that police must inform suspects that they have the right to remain silent, that what they say can be used against them, and that they have the right to an attorney. These safeguards are meant to protect suspects in police custody.)

* What reason is given for having police tell suspects that what they say can be used against them?

(Chief Justice Warren writes that the reason for this warning is to alert a suspect to the possible consequences of not remaining silent. He notes that the warning is meant to remind a suspect that he or she is "not in the presence of persons acting solely in his interests.")

* The Upfront article notes that with this ruling, the Court sought to "create some degree of balance during police interrogations." Based on the article and this excerpt, did they succeed? Explain.

(Answers will vary but should be supported with evidence from the texts. Some students may argue that the Court's delineation of a suspect's rights in Miranda v. Arizona offered suspects much-needed protection during police questioning. Others may argue that the decision did not go far enough or that it prevents police from doing their jobs.)

Extend & Assess

5 Writing Prompt

Why do you think the Framers of the Constitution included the Fifth Amendment? Do you agree that a person accused of a crime should have the right not to incriminate himself or herself during questioning or at trial? Explain.

6 Classroom Debate

Should police be required to have suspects restate their Miranda rights in their own words to confirm that they understand them?

7 Quiz

Use the quiz on page 10.

8 Paired Texts

Pair this Times Past with Upfront's two-part behind-the-scenes look at the Supreme Court from 2014 (see the Jan. 13, 2014, and Feb. 3, 2014, issues in our online archives). Discuss why students think the Court opted to hear the case Miranda v. Arizona.







Additional Resources

Print or project:

* Word Watch (infer word meanings)

* Article Quiz (p. 10 of this Teacher's Guide)

* 'Right to Remain Silent' (primary source, also on p. 13 of this Teacher's Guide)


Choose the best answer for each of the following questions.


1. A key question in the Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona was whether the Fifth Amendment applied to

a suspects who were guilty,

b suspects who were innocent,

c a witness's testimony in a courtroom,

d a suspect's interactions with police.

2. Which is false of the decision in Miranda v. Arizona?

a The justices were not unanimous in the decision,

b The decision was actually for four cases bundled together.

c The decision was applauded by most police departments and prosecutors,

d all of the above

3. The right to an attorney during criminal proceedings is guaranteed by the

a First Amendment,

b Fourth Amendment,

c Fifth Amendment,

d Sixth Amendment.

4. To Mirandize a suspect has come to mean

a eliciting a false confession from the suspect,

b interrogating the suspect for long periods without offering food or water.

c reading the suspect a list of his or her rights,

d questioning the suspect without an attorney present.


5. You can infer from the text that the Miranda ruling

a is under scrutiny and will likely soon be appealed,

b has largely been ignored by law enforcement,

c has been blamed for an increase in minority incarcerations.

d has had a lasting impact on law enforcement.

6. Select the sentence from the text that best supports your answer to question 5.

a "By then, Miranda's name had achieved notoriety."

b "... it's rare to find instances in which police fail to read [Miranda warnings] to suspects."

c "From the start, however, the ruling had its critics."

d "The majority of the justices agreed that reading the Miranda warnings

to suspects would create some degree of balance during police Interrogations."

7. Law professor Andrew Guthrie Ferguson calls for a "dialogue approach" to Miranda warnings in order to

a avoid disruptions in police investigations,

b expand the kinds of questions police can ask before reading the warning to suspects,

c confirm that suspects truly understand their rights,

d make sure that police interrogations are recorded.

8. In describing the men suspected of killing Ernesto Miranda, the author notes, "Both were read their Miranda rights; both waived them and answered police questions." The phrase waived them means

a insisted on them,

b gave them up.

c employed them,

d repeated them.

IN-DEPTH QUESTIONS Please use the other side of this paper for your responses.

9. How can failure to read a suspect his or her rights affect that person's trial? Do you think this rule is fair?

10. In the dissenting opinion in Miranda, Justice John Marshall Harlan expressed concern that the decision would have "harmful consequences for the country." What types of consequences might he have been worried about?


1. [d] a suspect's interactions with police.

2. [c] The decision was applauded by most police departments and prosecutors.

3. [d] Sixth Amendment.

4. [c] reading the suspect a list of his or her rights.

5. [d] has had a lasting impact on law enforcement.

6. [b] "... it's rare to find instances in which police fail to read [Miranda warnings] to suspects."

7. [c] confirm that suspects truly understand their rights.

8. [b] gave them up.

For use with "A Day on the Campaign Trail" on p.14 of the magazine


'A Right to Remain Silent'

In the 1966 landmark case Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police must inform suspects In custody of their constitutional rights to avoid self-incrimination and to be represented by an attorney. Read this annotated portion of the Court's majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Ear) Warren, along with the Upfront article about the ruling.

Excerpt from the U.S. Supreme Court's Majority Opinion in Miranda v. Arizona

The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime.

More specifically, we deal with the admissibility of statements obtained from an individual who is subjected to custodial police interrogation and the necessity for procedures which assure that the individual is accorded his privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate himself....

Briefly stated [our position] is this: the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. ... As for the procedural safeguards to be employed ... the following measures are to be required. Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed. The defendant may waive effectuation of these rights, provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. If, however, he indicates in any manner and at any stage that he does not wish to be interrogated, the police may not question him....

The warning of the right to remain silent must be accompanied by the explanation that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court. This warning is needed in order to make him aware not only of the privilege, but also of the consequences of forgoing it.... [T] his warning may serve to make the individual more acutely aware that he is ... not in the presence of persons acting solely in his interests....

If an individual indicates that he wishes the assistance of counsel before any interrogation occurs, the authorities cannot rationally ignore or deny his request on the basis that the individual does not have or cannot afford a retained attorney.

... The privilege against self-incrimination secured by the Constitution applies to all individuals. The need for counsel in order to protect the privilege exists for the indigent as well as the affluent....

The court examined Miranda v. Arizona along with three other related cases.

Custodial interrogation is questioning that takes place while a suspect is in police custody.

Effectuation means implementation.

Criminal jurisprudence simply means criminal law.

By admissibility, the writer means whether a statement can be used in court.

An exculpatory statement is one that helps show that the suspect is not guilty. An inculpatory statement is one that makes the defendant appear guilty.

Indigent means poor; affluent means wealthy.


1. What is the primary purpose of this Supreme Court opinion essay? Who do you think is the main audience?

2. Describe Chief Justice Warren's tone in the essay.

3. A "safeguard" is a step taken to protect a person or thing. What are the "procedural safeguards" listed in this court opinion? Who or what do they protect?

4. What reason is given for having police tell suspects that what they say can be used against them?

5. The Upfront article notes that with this ruling, the Court sought to "create some degree of balance during police interrogations." Based on the article and this excerpt, did they succeed? Explain.
COPYRIGHT 2016 Scholastic, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:TIMES PAST
Author:Majerol, Veronica
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 11, 2016
Previous Article:A day on the campaign trail.
Next Article:Should undocumented immigrants get a 'path to citizenship'?

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters