Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

Summary

The Constitution and Bill of Rights were written to protect the natural rights of citizens, including the rights of the accused. In the landmark case we spotlight this month, Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court held that the government cannot use statements stemming from interrogation “unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.”


Student Handout (PDF)

Teacher Key

Resources

Activity

The victim stood up and looked at each of the people in the police lineup. She turned to the officers and identified Ernesto Miranda as the man who had kidnapped and raped her. The Mexican immigrant was arrested and, after being questioned for two hours, Miranda confessed to the crimes in writing. He also acknowledged that he was aware of his right not to incriminate himself. His conviction, however, was overturned by the Supreme Court in this landmark case, Miranda v. Arizona (1966), as the police had not directly informed Miranda of the rights protected by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

The Fifth Amendment states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. . . .” Further, the Sixth Amendment states that, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the majority, saying “The Fifth Amendment privilege is so fundamental to our system of constitutional rule….[that] an individual held for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation. . . Only through such a warning is there ascertainable assurance that the accused was aware of this right.”

The Miranda Warnings, as they have come to be known, are: “ 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 have an attorney present before any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning. Do you understand these rights?”

In the recent decision of United States v. Dickerson, the Supreme Court said, “Miranda has become embedded in routine police warnings to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.”

Questions

  1. Why did the Supreme Court overturn Miranda’s conviction?
  2. According to the Court’s majority opinion, “…the prosecution may not use statements…stemming from…interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.” What are the effects of this ruling for accused persons? For society?
  3. Justice Harlan, who wrote the Court’s dissenting opinion in the case, said, “ The social costs of crime are too great to call the new rules anything but a hazardous experimentation…. One is entitled to feel astonished that the Constitution can be read to produce this result.” Do you agree? Why or why not?