Miranda Rights

We’ve heard it a million times on police or detective dramas on tv.  Someone is arrested, and as the detective scornfully slaps the handcuffs on the alleged criminal, he recites, “You have the right to remain silent…” as he drags him away toward the squad car.  This recitation is of a person’s Miranda Rights that were enacted by a Supreme Court ruling in 1966.

What is Miranda?

On June 13th of that year, the Supreme Court decided in Miranda v. Arizona that if a person is taken into police custody, he or she must be read the Fifth Amendment rights before being questioned.  The statement includes that:

  • You have the right to remain silent.

  • Anything you say can and will be used in a court of law.

  • You have the right to an attorney.

  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

Anything that the suspect may say before his rights have been read is considered to be an involuntary statement and in all likelihood will be thrown out of court, as will any evidence that was discovered as a result of the statement.

The Case

The Miranda ruling was actually a decision on four cases involving suspects who were deemed to be unaware of their rights.

Miranda v. Arizona

Miranda was arrested for kidnapping and rape, and after being questioned for 2 hours, he confessed and was sentenced to 20-30 years in prison.

Vignera v. New York

Vignera was taken into custody for robbing a dress shop.  He confessed to police and then again to an assistant district attorney who recorded it and used it in court.  He was convicted and sentenced to 30-60 years.

Westover v. United States

Westover was arrested in two robbery cases and questioned, eventually confessing to the crimes.  The confessions were introduced in court and he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years for each crime.

California v. Stewart

Stewart was arrested for purse-snatching in which one of his victims died in the act of the crime.  He was arrested and questioned for 9 days until he finally confessed.  Although he claimed he didn’t mean to harm his victim, he was sentenced to death, but the conviction was overturned in a lower appeals court because Stewart was not advised of his right to remain silent or his right to an attorney.  The state appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

All of these were overturned by the Supreme Court’s decision, except for Stewart whose decision was upheld by the Court.  Miranda was retried for the kidnapping and rape, this time without the confession or any subsequent evidence and was convicted, again being sentenced to 20-30 years in prison.

Your Miranda rights (or Miranda warning) are not the right to remain silent, etc.  They are merely the requirement of the arresting entity to ensure that a suspect understands the rights given to him under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, mainly those rights referring to self-incrimination.  The Supreme Court decision stands today as one of our fundamental rights in the judicial system.