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Miranda v. Arizona

The Miranda vs Arizona case revolutionized law enforcement, ensuring suspects know their rights. Ernesto Miranda's confession led to a Supreme Court ruling that police must inform suspects of their right to remain silent and have an attorney. This protects individuals from self-incrimination, balancing public safety and constitutional rights.

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Video transcript

- [Kim] You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. We've become familiar with the Miranda Warnings given to suspects in police custody through movies and TV shows but who was Miranda and what do these warnings really mean? This is Kim from Khan Academy and today we're digging into the 1966 supreme court case Miranda versus Arizona. To learn more about the case, I spoke with two experts. Jeffrey Rosen is the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center who's written extensively about the Supreme Court. Paul Cassell is the Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law at The University of Utah School of Law. He's a leading researcher on criminal procedure and crime victims rights. So Jeff, if we actually go back to the time of this case what was going on at this time in constitutional law, why was the Miranda case so important? - [Jeff] The Miranda case was hugely important because it represented the high water mark of the Warren Court's criminal procedure revolution. The 1960's were a time when there was a lot of concern about the third degree. Southern states were interrogating African American defendants in ways that struck many people as unfair but the Supreme Court took a long time to respond. - [Paul] Historically the admissibility of confessions into a trial had been determined by what is called, The Voluntariness Test and that required a judge to decide was the confession voluntarily given or had the police used unfair, overly aggressive tactics to extract it but making those kinds of determinations had proven challenging for some courts and so there was interest in coming up with, I guess what you might call a bright-line rule, a single test for determining whether confessions were or were not voluntary. - [Jeff] The court didn't really settle on a standard for deciding whether or not a confession was voluntary or not. A test emerged and it was called, the Totality of The Circumstances Test which basically gave judges a lot of discretion to weigh different factors. Was the defendant well educated, what was his physical health, his emotional characteristics but lots of people were uncomfortable with the amorphousness of this test and at a time when there's renewed concern in the 1960's about the unfairness of the third degree, there's pressure to come up with a crisper and more constitutionally rooted way ensuring that confessions are not only involuntary in the sense of not being beaten out of the suspect but not involuntary in the sense of not reflecting the subtle coercive pressures of the confession room. - [Paul] So Miranda was arrested on suspicion of rape and at the time the law on confessions was somewhat in flux. He appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court and then ultimately appealed to the United States Supreme Court which agreed to review his case and determine the issue. - [Kim] So who was Ernesto Miranda? What was his background? - [Jeff] Ernesto Miranda was a 23 year old Hispanic man. He was accused of raping a woman called Patricia. That was a pseudonym for her real name, she was basically forced into a car after getting off of a bus and assaulted in this terrible way. - [Paul] Miranda was a laborer, he was poorly educated I think is fair to say and I think it's also important to remember that he was a rapist. There doesn't seem to be any doubt that he in fact had sexually assaulted a young 18 year old girl as she was walking home from work late one night. He grabbed her off the street, threw her into the back of his car and drove her out into the desert and raped her and so those are all things that I think are important to recall when we talk about the Miranda decision. - [Jeff] And he was identified after a friend of hers saw a car similar to the one that she described a week later and the police tracked the registration down to Miranda's girlfriend who identified him. - [Paul] So the police got the report of the crime from the victim and they also had report of an unusual car that was involved and so eventually they were able to identify a car that was similar to that described by the victim that came back as registered to Miranda and so they picked him up for questioning, they took him into the station house. He denied having any involvement but then the police pulled a ploy, they had the victim come and look at Miranda along with a couple of other people in a lineup. A group of similarly appearing people and the victim thought that maybe Miranda was the person who'd committed the crime but she wasn't sure. So the police went back to Miranda and they said, "Well, she's identified you." and Miranda at that point said, "Well I guess I better tell you what happened then." and he made a confession to the rape as well as to some other crimes as well. - [Jeff] The question was whether this confession was consistent with the Fifth Amendment. He might or might not have met the totality of the circumstances test as Justice Harlan noted in his dissent. Miranda was 23 years old, indigent, educated to the extent of completing half the ninth grade, had an emotional illness of the schizophrenic type and the question was whether he made a knowing and intelligent waiver of these rights but the Supreme Court decided not to stick to that old totality of the circumstances test and rethink the entire way that confessions should be evaluated. - [Kim] So the Supreme Court was kind of looking for an example case right, to try to figure out what this line should be about confessions and how the police should treat suspects. Why did they choose this case in particular? - [Jeff] The court chose the Miranda case 'cause it came up at the right time at a time when all of the judges were increasingly impatient with this totality of the circumstances test including the great liberal textualist Hugo Black who had been a opponent of the voluntariness test 'cause he just thought it was too subjective. So they took the case. It was certainly not a sympathetic one in the sense that Miranda was not the most sympathetic defendant but the court thought the time was right and they decided in Miranda to rethink the Fifth Amendment law. - [Kim] Wow, so during his case what did Miranda argue? So why did he think that his confession should be thrown out? - [Paul] Well Miranda's case attracted a lot of attention because everyone knew the Supreme Court were very interested in the law of confessions and trying to come up with a new rule for addressing some of the issues and so he had a very good lawyer, John Flynn. Flynn interestingly enough argued that Miranda's right to counsel had been violated. It was only the police and Miranda who were in the interview room talking to each other and there was no lawyer there and so Flynn argued that this violated Miranda's Sixth Amendment right to counsel. However as the case developed and ultimately the opinion was released, the Supreme Court rejected the Sixth Amendment argument and instead went with the Fifth Amendment argument. The court said that what had been violated by the procedures here was Miranda's right against being compelled to incriminate himself and the court said that there needed to be certain warnings given to Miranda and certain procedures followed to make sure that confessions given by suspects like him were admissible in court. - [Jeff] Flynn never said the confession was compelled in the sense that it was coerced by threats or promises or compulsion or at gunpoint but the fact that he gave the confession without knowing his rights, to silence or having an attorney present while in police custody made him in effect surrender a right that he didn't fully realize and appreciate. The State was represented by very prominent attorney Telford Taylor and he said that you should retain the totality of the circumstances test and not change the law but the Supreme Court disagreed and on June 13th 1966, it announced its five to four decision in the Miranda case. - [Kim] So what actually happened to Ernesto Miranda after this Supreme Court case? - [Jeff] Well the fallout from the decision was interesting. Miranda assumed that he was going to be released because the Supreme Court had ruled his confession inadmissible and that was a pivotal piece of evidence without which the prosecution was not going to be able to prove that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so Miranda's father ordered a bottle of whisky that they were going to open to celebrate his release. But unfortunately for Miranda and I suspect fortunately for the citizens of Phoenix, Miranda had made a few statements along the way. He had threatened his common-law wife that he was going to get out and was going to come back and try to take the kids away from her and she went to police and reported that Miranda had confessed the crime to her and of course a confession to a private citizen, a common-law wife is not the same thing as a confession to a police officer and so the case was retried. Miranda's confession to his common-law wife was used in evidence against him. Miranda was convicted and I guess it's fair to say that bottle of whisky went unopened. - [Kim] Alright this is very interesting because we see this a lot on TV procedurals and also just in our sort of everyday policing. So how is this Miranda rule applied today? Has it developed at all over time? - [Paul] Yes, what the Supreme Court said was basically two things were going to have to happen before a confession given by someone who was in police custody could be admitted at a trial. The first is that the suspect would have to be given Miranda warnings. That is, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you. You have a right to an attorney before you answer any questions and if you cannot afford an attorney one will provided for you. So those are the famous Miranda warnings that I think a lot of have seen those on TV shows or other programs and there is a second feature though of Miranda that I think is much more important and in some ways much more harmful to society. It's what is known as the waiver requirement. Police officers must ask a suspect, "Do you agree to answer questions?" and if the suspect says no then the police can't ask that suspect any questions no matter how briefly, no matter how reasonable the questions might be and so it's this warning and waiver procedure that the Supreme Court put in place. - [Jeff] So that core right remains the law of the land. - [Paul] So there are some situations where Miranda is not in place. One of them is if a suspect is not in custody. For example if the police are responding to a crime and question people on the scene there. That's not a situation where there is what's known in the Miranda opinion as the inherent compulsion of police questioning. That's just ordinary citizen police interaction and special warnings aren't required there. Also a suspect's agreed to come down to the police station and talk, there's no requirement of a Miranda warning and in very rare situations, if there is an extremely pressing public safety need police officers need not give Miranda warnings. For example if they've apprehended a terrorist who's hidden a bomb, police can ask questions without giving the Miranda warnings. - [Kim] How has the Miranda case and later cases that interpret Miranda reflect the way that the court balances individual liberty and the constitutional rights of defendants with public safety and the needs of law enforcement? - [Paul] When the Supreme Court looked at the Miranda case there were two competing concerns at play. One was to make sure that suspects like Miranda were treated fairly but the other was to make sure that law enforcement agencies could effectively investigate crime and what resulted out of Miranda was I think it's fair to say, something of a compromised decision. There were some who argued that police officers should never be able to question suspects once they were taken into custody that suspects should receive a lawyer and of course a lawyer would immediately tell a suspect, don't say anything at all. Miranda didn't go that far and I think the reason it didn't go that far is there are very significant countervailing concerns. A lot of crimes cannot be solved unless a suspect is willing to give some statements and provide information that police can check out. The Miranda case itself is a good illustration of that. The victim in that case, because the crime was committed at nighttime and in the dark was unable to give a positive identification of Miranda and it was only when police were able to get a statement from him that they were in a position to move forward and prosecute him and to take a dangerous rapist off the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. - [Jeff] Listeners should definitely check out Professor Cassell's study written with Richard Fowles in 1998 called Handcuffing The Cops which looked at FBI data for crime clearance rates in the two years after Miranda which fell significantly and they concluded that Miranda warnings were the main cause of this decline. But it's really important to stress that other scholars have questioned the study and have also noted that even if Miranda initially made it more difficult for officials to interrogate suspects, the police have since adjusted to Miranda. In fact they've come often to embrace it concluding that basically saying the magic words and mirandizing suspects frees up the police to employ a range of sophisticated strategies to get people to confess anyway and for this reason when the Miranda case was reaffirmed, far from being upset, the police in many cases welcomed the certainty that Miranda provides. So for all these reasons I think it's fair to say, just descriptively that Miranda regardless of the empirical dispute about whether or not it has discouraged confessions has been accepted by law enforcement by and large. It's been affirmed by the Supreme Court and at least for the immediate future, it's here to stay. - [Kim] So we've learned that the ruling in Miranda versus Arizona arose out of concern that suspects in police custody might confess out of coercion or lack of knowledge about their own rights. The decision in Miranda that suspects must be informed of their rights helps to protect individuals accused of a crime from surrendering their Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate. But has Miranda harmed the ability of police to investigate crimes by preventing them from obtaining important information? Professor Cassell suggests that the broad application of Miranda has hampered police investigations. By contrast Jeff Rosen argues that police have adjusted to working within the confines of Miranda and use other techniques to investigate crime. To learn more about Miranda versus Arizona visit the National Constitution Center's interactive constitution and Khan Academy's resources on U.S. Government and politics.