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Introduction

Miranda rights are the rights given to people in the United States upon arrest. Anyone who has watched a U.S. detective show or two can rattle off the words: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…” The speech must be recited by law enforcement officials when detaining suspects to ensure they are aware of their right to an attorney and against self-incrimination. The rights are also called the Miranda warning and they stem from a 1966 Supreme Court case: Miranda v. Arizona.

In the original case, the defendant, Ernesto Miranda, was a 24-year-old high school drop-out with a police record when he was accused in 1963 of kidnapping, raping and robbing an 18-year-old woman. During a two-hour interrogation, Miranda confessed to the crimes.

Lawyers would contend that Miranda had not been clearly informed of his rights to have a lawyer and against self-incrimination. Their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would forever change U.S. criminal procedure.

The crime in question occurred in March 1963 when an 18-year-old girl was forcibly grabbed by a man as she was walking home from her bus stop after working late at a movie house in Phoenix, Arizona. The attacker dragged her into his car, tied her hands behind her back and forced her to lie down in the back seat.

After driving for 20 minutes, the man stopped outside of the city and raped her. He demanded she give him her money and told her to lie down again in the back seat.

He then drove her back into the city, dropping her off blocks from her house.

Days after reporting the incident to Phoenix police, the 18-year-old and her cousin noticed a car driving slowly near the same bus stop and reported the suspicious car’s partial license plate to police. Police tracked the sedan to 29-year-old Twila Hoffman who was living in nearby Mesa, Arizona.

Hoffman had a live-in boyfriend by the name of Ernesto Miranda. When police showed up at the girlfriend’s door, Miranda spoke to them and agreed to go to the station and appear in a line-up.

The victim was unable to make an immediate identification from the four-man line-up at the police station but Miranda was led to believe otherwise. When Miranda asked afterwards, “How did I do?,” he was told by Captain Carroll Cooley, “Not too good, Ernie.”

Miranda was then questioned for two hours without a lawyer. At one point, the detectives brought the victim into the room. One of them asked Miranda if this was the person he had raped. Miranda looked at her and said, “That’s the girl.”

Miranda eventually offered details of the crimes that closely matched the victim’s account. He agreed to formalize his confession in a written statement, which he wrote out under the words, “this confession was made with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”

His confession was used as sole evidence when he was tried and convicted for the crimes by an Arizona court. Miranda’s lawyer, Alvin Moore, appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court six months later, posing the questions:

“Was [Miranda’s] statement made voluntarily?” and “Was [he] afforded all the safeguards to his rights provided by the Constitution of the United States and the law and rules of the courts?”

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in April 1965 that Miranda’s confession was legitimate and that he had been aware of his rights.

Miranda’s case, however, caught the eye of an attorney with the Phoenix chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Robert Corcoran. Corcoran reached out to prominent Arizona trial lawyer John J. Flynn, who took over the case and recruited his colleague and expert in constitutional law, John P. Frank, to assist in an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

In his brief on behalf of Miranda, Frank wrote, “The day is here to recognize the full meaning of the Sixth Amendment.”

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a lawyer. Also at play was the Fifth Amendment, which protects defendants from being compelled to become witnesses against themselves.

Even though Miranda had written his confession under a statement saying that he was fully aware of his legal rights, his lawyers argued those rights had not been made explicitly clear to him. Under the duress of detainment, they argued, his confession should not be deemed admissible.

The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, agreed. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the Arizona Supreme Court decision and declared that Miranda’s confession could not be used as evidence in a criminal trial.

Warren’s 60-plus-page written opinion, released on June 13, 1966, further outlined police procedure to ensure that defendants are clearly informed their rights as they are being detained and interrogated.

Those police procedures were encapsulated in the Miranda Warning, which police departments nationwide soon began distributing on index cards to their officers so that they would recite them to suspects.

The Miranda Warning reads:

“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?”

Miranda’s case was remanded for re-trial, with the confession excluded from evidence. While his Supreme Court case changed the course of U.S. criminal procedure, Miranda’s own fate would not be so altered.

In his retrial, his ex-girlfriend, Twila Hoffman, offered testimony against him, revealing that he had told her about his crimes while he was in prison. In October 1967, Miranda was convicted and sentenced to 20-30 years in prison.

Miranda was paroled by December 1975, but just over a month later, on January 31, 1976, he was stabbed to death in a Phoenix bar fight.

Officers would detain two acquaintances who were with Miranda that night for questioning. Before asking each about the evening, officers recited the Miranda warning (in Spanish). Both men were released after questioning.

Later, witness accounts would narrow the investigation to one of the men. But by that time, the main suspect had fled and was never apprehended. No charges were ever filed for Miranda’s murder.

Miranda: The Story of America’s Right to Remain Silent by Gary L. Stuart, published by The University of Arizona Press, 2004.
“50 years since Miranda vs. Arizona case argued at Supreme Court,” March 1, 2016, azcentral.
Miranda v. Arizona, Justia U.S. Supreme Court.
“You Have the Right to Remain Silent: The Strange Story behind the most cited case in American history,” by H. Mitchell Caldwell and Michael S. Lief, American Heritage, August/September 2006, Vol. 57, Issue 4.
Miranda v. Arizona, Landmark Cases, Expanding Civil Rights, Supreme Court History, December 2006, The Supreme Court, PBS.