Miranda V. Arizona

The Phoenix Police Museum officially opened its Miranda Exhibit on Wednesday, marking 50-years since the arrest of Ernesto Miranda. It set in motion questions about our most basic Constitutional rights. Miranda v. Arizona is the most well known U.S. Supreme Court decision and forever changed the relationship between police and suspects.

Remain Silent. Miranda was arrested in 1963 for kidnapping and sexual assault. He gave police a written confession admitting to the crimes. At trial, defense counsel challenged the confession believing police failed to the protect Miranda’s rights against self-incrimination and to legal counsel. An Arizona jury convicted Miranda, but he appealed.

Used Against You. Before the Arizona Supreme Court (AZSC) heard the appeal in 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of defendant’s rights in Escobedo v. Illinois. The AZSC narrowly construed Escobedo and upheld Miranda’s conviction. Conflicting interpretations of Escobedo motivated the ACLU to find a new case for the U.S. Supreme Court. They found it in Miranda v. Arizona.

Right to Attorney. An attorney agreed to argue the Constitutional issues in Miranda pro bono. By then, the case had gained national attention causing civil rights groups, law enforcement, and attorney associations to file Amicus briefs with the Court. Four other cases, including the case forming the basis for The Fugitive, were tied to Miranda. If a man is uneducated, indigent, or with mental defect, argued Miranda’s counsel, at the very least an obligation exists to clarify his rights and accord him counsel. Then Solicitor General, Thurgood Marshall, of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education agreed.

Understand the Rights. In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Miranda’s conviction stating his Constitutional rights were violated and crafted the now famous Miranda Warning.

Miranda’s Legacy. Ernesto Miranda was retried without the original confession and still found guilty. After parole, he made Miranda cards and signed and sold them for pocket money. At 36, Miranda was stabbed to death in a bar fight. Legend says Miranda cards spilled from his pocket and as police arrested his killer, they used one to read the suspect his Miranda rights

Commentary. It is hard to balance the desire to convict criminals with the procedural protections afforded by our philosophy of legal justice and rights of citizens. Essentially, the Court opted to ensure that the accused is aware of, and reminded of, their rights under the U.S. Constitution against self-incrimination, and that they know they can invoke them at any time during the interview.

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