You Have the Right to Know the Story Behind the Miranda Warning
Even if you’ve never had your own brush with the law, you no doubt know the Miranda warning. Somehow, maybe through the mass quantity Law and Order and CSI-type shows, those words have seeped into our brains:
“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 speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.”
Those words are the result of the Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court trial of 1966. Three years before, an 18-year-old Phoenix woman reported to police that she was kidnapped, taken to the desert and raped. The woman was able to provide details about the car her kidnapper drove; those details took police to Ernesto Miranda. Though the woman couldn’t identify him in a lineup, police took him into custody and performed an interrogation anyway. The grilling resulted in a Miranda-signed confession.
Miranda later said he was forced into confessing because he was never made aware of his constitutional right to say nothing. His case wound up in front of the Supreme Court in 1966; they ruled that nothing Miranda “confessed” to could be used to try him because he was improperly educated on his rights. Almost immediately following the trial, the Miranda warning became a mandatory part of arrests.
That decision wasn’t popular with everyone. Even President Nixon was a vocal denouncer of rights-reading – he felt informing criminals of their rights would make police less effective and predicted that crime would skyrocket.
And what became of Miranda? The case was retried without the confession in 1967, but it turned out the jury didn’t need one to convict. Miranda was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison but got out in 1972. For a while, he made a living signing Miranda cards (small cards with the required saying printed on them) and selling them for $1.50. He had been out of prison for less than four years when he was killed in a bar fight in Phoenix in 1976 at the age of 36.