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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
And then, almost as he was taking dictation during John Flynn’s oral argument, Chief Justice Warren wrote the most famous words in the history of American criminal procedure: “At the outset, if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that [he] has the right to remain silent … that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court … that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation … [and] that if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.”
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Finally, the Court’s focus turned to the interrogation of Ernesto Miranda: “It is clear that Miranda was not in any way apprised of his right to consult with an attorney and to have one present during the interrogation, nor was his right not to be compelled to incriminate himself effectively protected in any other manner.” Without these warnings, the statements were inadmissible.
The United States Supreme Court had finally given the police a clear guideline: From now on, confessions by suspects taken into custody who had not specifically been informed of their constitutional rights would be inadmissible in court. From now on, if an officer simply failed to read the rights laid out in the Miranda opinion, the prosecution would lose a crucial piece of evidence, and admitted felons could go free. From now on when a suspect confessed, the case was no longer closed.
Following Miranda, the already considerable public outcry against the Warren Court intensified. How could the Court let a confessed rapist go free? Didn’t it realize that Ernesto Miranda had preyed upon and violated a retarded girl? Didn’t it care?
In 1968 Richard Nixon, preparing for his presidential bid, issued a statement that blamed Escobedo and Miranda for the nation’s rising crime rate: “The cumulative effect [of] these decisions has been to very nearly rule out the ‘confession’ as an effective and major tool in prosecution and law enforcement.”
But as the years passed, the true effect of the Miranda rule began to take shape. Studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s indicated that contrary to popular belief, Miranda had little, if any, effect on detectives’ ability to solve crimes. Even so, by the turn of this century the Supreme Court had become what many claimed was the polar opposite of its 1960s predecessor. The liberals who had once dominated it had been replaced by moderate or conservative appointees, including Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. With the rise of the Rehnquist Court came increasing speculation that Miranda might be overturned.
This was a battle that Miranda—without the help of John Flynn or Earl Warren—had to fight on his own.
In 2000 the Court gave a definitive answer to years of conjecture. In Dickerson v. United States , a man suspected of bank robbery confessed his involvement to FBI agents. However, he had not been given a Miranda warning. The District Court of Eastern Virginia granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the confession. The government appealed. In overturning the district court’s holding, the Fourth Circuit cited the 30-year-old congressional law, 18 U.S.C. § 3501, stating that although the FBI agents had not met the Miranda test, they did meet the legislative “voluntariness” standard. The Fourth Circuit further asserted that Miranda was a judicial construct and not a constitutional interpretation. Therefore Congress had the explicit power to overrule it.
This faced the Rehnquist Court with a difficult decision: Throw away more than 30 years of precedent or hold a federal law unconstitutional. It was the Court’s opportunity to over-rule Miranda , and the conservatives had the votes to do it. However, in a surprising move, the conservative Chief Justice headed a majority of six of his colleagues. Rehnquist wrote: “While Congress has ultimate authority to modify or set aside any such rules that are not constitutionally required, it may not supersede this Court’s decisions interpreting and applying the Constitution.