Miranda v. Arizona and the Fifth Amendment

Law enforcement did not provide any warnings about his right to counsel. Furthermore, they did not advise him of his right to remain silent. After two hours of interrogation, he admitted to the crimes. He provided a short, handwritten confession to the police. 

“The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime."

This introduction framed the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Miranda v. Arizona. Written by then-Chief Justice Earl Warren, it is one of the most famous decisions in United States history.

Often referenced as the Miranda case, the 1966 Supreme Court decision created the Miranda warning. The Supreme Court held that in criminal cases, "the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination."

This article includes an overview of the Miranda case and its application to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

Miranda Rights at a Glance

The Miranda warning has entered pop culture through movies and TV crime dramas. The Miranda warning tells criminal suspects in police custody about their Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights. These rights are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Before questioning a suspect in custody, law enforcement officers must advise a suspect of their rights. These include:

  • 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 (and to have that attorney present during questioning).
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
  • You can exercise these rights and end questioning at any time.

The Fifth Amendment prevents the government from forcing people to incriminate themselves. That means you cannot be forced to admit to a crime. The Sixth Amendment protects the criminal suspect's right to an attorney's assistance.

Failing to provide a proper Miranda warning can ruin a prosecution just as custodial questioning without a Miranda warning can significantly affect a suspect's case. Statements given in such a situation are assumed to be involuntary. Thus, a court will usually suppress a defendant's statements offered during an interrogation. This prevents the prosecution from using the incriminating statements at the criminal trial.

The Case of Ernesto Miranda

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Miranda v. Arizona.

Arizona-born Ernesto Miranda had a long history of run-ins with the law. He had multiple juvenile convictions and several arrests. He had also served a short stint in federal prison. In 1963, the police investigated him in connection to the robbery, kidnapping, and rape of an 18-year-old woman near Phoenix.

The victim provided a description that matched Miranda's. A witness identified Miranda's truck, and law enforcement took Miranda into custody. There, he agreed to participate in a lineup of suspects. The victim picked him out of the lineup. Police then began questioning him about the rape case and another unrelated crime.

Part of the written confession stated that he made it with "full knowledge" of his legal rights. The confession also noted Miranda understood any statements he made could be used against him.

Miranda's Trial and Appeals

At trial, the court admitted the confession into evidence despite objection from Miranda's attorney. Furthermore, police officers testified about Miranda's incriminating statements. Miranda was convicted and sentenced to 20-30 years in prison.

Miranda appealed his conviction to the Arizona Supreme Court, which affirmed the trial court's conviction. Miranda then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Miranda argued that law enforcement had not informed him of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. He also argued that police violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Supreme Court's Decision in Miranda

The U.S. Supreme Court recognized that police did not safeguard Miranda's Sixth Amendment right. The court noted an attorney was not present during the interrogation. Additionally, the police did not advise him of his right to the presence of an attorney.

The Supreme Court further determined that police did not protect Miranda's right against self-incrimination. The Supreme Court ruled that the police did not effectively protect his rights before interrogation.

The U.S. Supreme Court's majority opinion reversed the decision by the Arizona Supreme Court. This reversal overturned his conviction by making the confession inadmissible evidence. All this was despite the statement in Miranda's confession that he understood his rights.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice John Harlan claimed that the right not to self-incriminate applied only in courts. Harlan did not believe the right applied at police stations.

The landmark case overturning Miranda's conviction changed criminal procedure and constitutional law forever. The court's ruling emphasizes the importance of constitutional protections for the accused. For Miranda himself, however, very little changed. He was retried and convicted in 1967 based on other evidence. The court ultimately sentenced him to 20-30 years for the rape and kidnapping.

Supreme Court Cases Decided Alongside Miranda

The U.S. Supreme Court decided three other cases along with Miranda. A brief summary of these cases:

  • The Supreme Court of California suppressed a confession in California v. Stewart (1965). Roy Allen Stewart was convicted of robbery and murder in the trial court. Police had obtained a confession after nine interrogations over five days. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the California decision. The high court recognized that police should have advised Stewart of his right to remain silent (his Fifth Amendment privilege). Additionally, the court ruled that law enforcement should have apprised him of his right to counsel.
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a conviction in Westover v. United States (1966). Kansas City police officers did not inform the defendant, Carl Calvin Westover, of his rights. They later turned over the interrogation to FBI agents, who questioned Westover about out-of-state robberies. In total, law enforcement interrogated Westover for 14 hours. He provided signed confessions to law enforcement. The prosecution used these confessions to support Westover's conviction in federal court. An FBI agent testified that law enforcement informed the defendant of his rights. Nonetheless, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit.
  • In Vignera v. New York (1966), the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to a New York Court of Appeals ruling. There, law enforcement questioned the defendant, Michael Vignera, in three different precincts. The defendant did not have counsel present at any interrogation. Vignera was convicted of first-degree robbery. The Supreme Court reversed the New York decision. The high court determined that the defendant's statements were inadmissible. It noted he had received no warnings or other safeguards concerning his rights.

Miranda v. Arizona, the Fifth Amendment, and the Dickerson Case

In 2000, a case posed a serious challenge to Miranda's place in Supreme Court jurisprudence. The Dickerson v. United States case threatened to reverse Miranda.

The defendant, Dickerson, confessed that he drove the getaway car in a series of bank robberies. The district court applied Miranda and suppressed his confession.

On appeal, one question before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether U.S. Code Title 18, Section 3501 was constitutional. Congress enacted the statute after the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda. The law states, in part, that "in any criminal prosecution brought by the United States ... a confession ... shall be admissible in evidence if it is voluntarily given."

The prosecution argued that if the statute were constitutional, it would render the Miranda requirements void. If the prosecution prevailed, it would affect the admissibility of a criminal suspect's statements. Specifically, a court could admit such statements, even if law enforcement did not apprise a suspect of the rights that had been laid down in Miranda.

The Fourth Circuit made the following findings:

  1. Congress can overrule judicially created rules of evidence and procedures. Specifically, it can overrule rules that the U.S. Constitution does not require. Thus, whether Congress has the authority to enact the law depends on whether the Constitution requires such a rule.
  2. At no point did the court in Miranda refer to the warnings as constitutional rights. Indeed, the court acknowledged that the Constitution did not require the warnings. Instead, it referred to the warnings as "procedural safeguards." Furthermore, the court invited Congress and the states "to develop their own safeguards for (protecting) the privilege."
  3. Since deciding Miranda, the court has consistently referred to the Miranda warnings as "prophylactic." These rights were "not themselves rights protected by the Constitution."

Based on these findings, the Fourth Circuit held that Section 3501 governed the admissibility of confessions in federal court. Therefore, the "judicially created rule of Miranda" did not govern admissibility.

Dickerson appealed the Fourth Circuit's decision. Thus, the fight over Miranda warnings returned to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 26, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Fourth Circuit. In doing so, it reaffirmed the Miranda decision. The Supreme Court held that "Miranda, being a constitutional decision of this Court, may not be in effect overruled by an Act of Congress." The court declined to overrule Miranda itself. The Dickerson ruling reiterated "that Miranda and its progeny in this Court govern the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogation."

Miranda v. Arizona and the Fifth Amendment: Related Resources

The following resources contain more information about Miranda rights. Additionally, these links provide information on various related constitutional issues:

Use Your Miranda Rights: Contact a Criminal Law Attorney

The significance of the Miranda warning is often misunderstood. The protections let suspects know of their fundamental rights in the criminal justice system. If law enforcement fails to inform a suspect of their rights, it can significantly affect their case.

However, law enforcement's failure to provide the Miranda warning does not invalidate an arrest. It also does not provide any particular immunity from prosecution. Instead, it provides a criminal suspect an argument regarding the statements they made.

Regardless of whether the police read you these rights, you can still choose to exercise any or all of them. Once you do, police must generally stop questioning you. A criminal suspect must clearly invoke their Fifth and Sixth amendment rights. Failing to invoke the rights allows the police to continue or resume their questioning. Thus, providing statements may constitute a waiver of your rights.

If law enforcement violated your Miranda rights, it is wise to seek an attorney's help immediately. Contact a criminal defense attorney near you today for legal advice.

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