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“You Have The Right To Remain Silent”
The strange story behind the most cited case in American history: THE MIRANDA DECISION
August/September 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 4
Suspect confesses, case closed. Confessions are frequently the best evidence of a crime and, more often than not, the deciding factor in a suspect’s eventual conviction.
But what if the confession is coerced? A confession induced with a nightstick clearly is suspect. But what about those that are the product of subtle techniques? Those confessions born of 36-hour interrogations? Or in response to lies? Are they trustworthy? Should they be used at trial?
No one foresaw that the answer to these old questions would be found in the confession of a 23-year-old man suspected of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old girl.
The son of a Mexican immigrant, Ernesto Arturo Miranda was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1940. His mother died when he was six; his father remarried less than a year later. Ernesto fought constantly with his stepmother and became estranged from his father.
As a student at the Queen of Peace Grammar School in Mesa he rarely attended classes and dropped out after the eighth grade. In 1954 he was arrested for his first felony, burglary. Sentenced to probation, he returned to the courthouse less than a year later to face another burglary charge; this one landed him in the Arizona State Industrial School for Boys. Just a few weeks after his release he committed his first sexual offense, attempted rape and assault.
After two more years at the Industrial School the 17-year-old attempted a fresh start in Los Angeles, where he was arrested for lack of supervision, curfew violations, peeping Tom activities, and eventually armed robbery. He served 45 days in the county detention home before being sent back to Arizona. Uneducated, broke, and alone, Miranda decided that the U.S. Army might be a way out. He spent more than a third of his year-and-a-half military career at hard labor for going AWOL and being caught in another peeping Tom act.
With a dishonorable discharge, Miranda drifted to Texas, where he tried his hand at stealing cars. Again arrested, he went to federal prison for a year. In California after his release, Miranda made another attempt at assimilating into society. This time things seemed to be working out. Now 21, he met Twila Hoffman, a woman eight years his senior, who had recently separated from her husband. Two months later Miranda moved in with her and her two children. The next year the couple gave birth to their own child, a daughter. Miranda moved his new family back to Mesa, and they found jobs, Twila at a nursery school, he as a dockworker for a produce facility.
Until this time he had never held a job for more than two weeks. Now he enjoyed a good relationship with his supervisor, who referred to him as “one of the best workers [he had] ever had.”
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She was a heavy girl, a slow girl, a girl whose consciousness of her unfortunate characteristics created an introverted personality. Her stepbrother once said that during the 11 years he knew her, he doubted if the two had exchanged a total of 30 words. At 18, she lived in Phoenix with her mother, sister, and brother-in-law and worked at a local movie house.
On March 2, 1963, the theater was showing The Longest Day , and the picture’s length had forced her to stay far later than she was used to. Her bus didn’t reach her stop until 12:10 a.m. Under the dark desert sky, she walked up Marlette Street. The next two hours of her life would trigger a series of events that would reshape American criminal procedure.
She was nearly home when a car darted from a driveway in front of her. A man jumped out, grabbed her, put his hand over her mouth, and said, “Don’t scream, and you won’t get hurt.”
She pleaded, “Let me go, please let me go,” but the attacker dragged her to his car, tied her hands behind her back, and forced her to lie down on the back seat.
After a 20-minute drive the car came to a stop. The man untied his terrified passenger and forced himself upon her. When it was over, he asked her for money, and she gave him the four dollars that she had. He told her to lie down once again on the back seat and started back to the city. During the drive the man said, “Whether you tell your mother what has happened or not is none of my business, but pray for me.”
He stopped four blocks from her house and let her out.