The Miranda rights, also known as the Miranda warning, are an iconic legal term associated with law enforcement. These set of rights are a notification given by law enforcement officers to individuals in police custody and interrogation. Based on a high-profile Supreme Court case, the Miranda warning is targeted of notifying the suspect of their legal rights and preserve the admissibility of statements during interrogation to be used in later criminal proceedings in court. The Miranda rights were an important legal precedent which became a standard in law enforcement and legal practice with protections against police coercion, but the decision is highly controversial to this day and retains much criticism from both supporters and opponents.
The Miranda rights stem from one of the most well-known Supreme Court cases, Miranda v. Arizona (1966), a decision on four separate cases consolidated as they addressed the same fundamental issues. The cases focused on the question of whether statements made by suspects during police interrogation were admissible evidence if they were not informed of their rights to silence and counsel (Kelley et al. 78). While there was some minor legislation and court rulings prior to Miranda¸ none of them were broad and at the federal level such as this. The only requirement prior to Miranda was that the confession had to be made voluntarily, but for decades police utilized abusive interrogation techniques and psychological coercion to force confessions. Ernesto Arturo Miranda was the primary suspect, arrested for armed robbery, kidnapping, and rape, but whose 5th and 6th Amendment rights were violated during the arrest and trial. He was subsequently retried and convicted.
The Miranda decision was issued by the Warren Court at its peak among multiple other decisions focusing on law enforcement, with various cases gradually expanding rights for suspects and defendants. Given Warren’s law enforcement background and awareness of coercion tactics utilized, the Court articulated that the primary focus of the case was not the Miranda warnings but the Fifth Amendment-based prohibition of compulsory self-incrimination which also applies during informal custodial interrogation. However, the Court did not stop there, and in the context of the totality of circumstances framework utilized which only vaguely described defendant’s rights and often confused all stakeholders, the Miranda decision described a safeguard that would dispel coercion of police interrogation and advise suspects of their rights. This became known as the Miranda rights (Kelley et al. 80).
While the Warren Supreme Court attempted to ground the Miranda ruling in earlier jurisprudence, it inherently represented an innovation in the constitutional law on criminal procedures. Commonly, the Fifth Amendment played no role in judicial regulation of police interrogation practices. The intended objective for the new Miranda rule was to replace the subjective due process voluntariness approach with an objective standard equal for all cases. The Court required the Miranda warning be applied in all cases where questioning was initiated by law enforcement after suspect was taken into custody. However, once an individual waives the Miranda rights, the due process voluntariness is once again the constitutional standard for judging coercion and admissibility of an interrogation and resulting confession. Miranda emphasized that modern police interrogation was contradictory to the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, creating inherently compelling pressure which undermine the suspect’s “rational capacity” to provide information freely to law enforcement (Leo 628).
The Miranda warnings was a simple and practical solution for police, prosecutors, and judges to distinguish admissible statements and confessions from those that were not. However, it leads to the primary point that it is a rule of admissibility, not a rule of police conduct. Technically, police are not required to read the Miranda rights to the suspect, rather it is a procedure commonly practiced as a general rule so that the prosecutor’s ability to admit statements into evidence can be preserved. Second, the decision was aimed at balancing suspect rights as well as the needs of law enforcement – better informed suspects and prepared police officers. Despite Miranda having the potential to drastically change the landscape of interrogations and admissibility analysis, it mostly did not. Since many of the suspects waive their rights, the totality of the circumstances framework, the same one used prior to Miranda applied to challenge admissibility of statements (Kelley et al. 80).
Breakdown of the Rights
Upon arrest, the Miranda warnings can be delivered in variety of ways, typically provided verbally, but also can be in written form. Depending on the jurisdiction, a police officer may ask the suspect if they understand their rights or ask them to read and explain back the warning. Some form of verbal affirmation of understanding is required. The suspect then voices their decision to remain silent with sufficient clarity or waive their rights explicitly and voluntarily (Schreiber 3).
Each state maintains their own set of Miranda warnings with different levels of complexity. However, there are five main components that all Miranda warnings must have.
- The right to remain silent – a reminder that suspects do not have to speak to the law enforcement and a prerequisite in overcoming pressures of the interrogation.
- “Anything you say can, and will be used against you” – this builds on the right to remain silent aspect, a warning that indicates that once informed of the rights, the individual’s words can be used as a confession. It is based of the Fifth Amendment which establishes an individual’s right against self-incrimination.
- Right to an attorney – based on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, but it differs slightly than the Miranda right to counsel.
- Right to an attorney present before and during interrogation – the Supreme Court included this specific element to protect individual rights and based on evidence that police coercion is significantly reduced with a lawyer present.
- “If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you” – based on the Supreme Court ruling Gideon v. Wainright which provides a state-appointed attorney to those who cannot afford one or defend themselves. However, an individual must indicate the necessity to consult with an attorney prior to further questioning, clearly exercising their Miranda right, only then can the police pause interrogation (“Breakdown of Miranda Rights”).
Effect on Police Practice
When initially enacted, the Miranda ruling was highly criticized and virtually ignored by law enforcement. Eventually, most had to comply, but the concept remained an issue of contention. In modern day, Miranda rights are still read, and there are both positive and negative long-term effects of the concept. While using brute force to force confessions is no longer a practice, psychological coercion and deception are still present, as will be discussed I in the criticism, to workaround the Miranda protocols. Deception in many ways continues to be tolerated by the courts to draw out confessions, although strongly undermines the social trust in the police. However, there are positive effects as well. Evidence collection is much more thorough, in combination with significant advances in forensic sciences and technology, making police rely less on confessions and seek alternative methods of deriving facts and evidence (Ruschmann 66). The Miranda case, both at the time of its ruling, and in current social contexts of police misconduct has placed significant focus on the practices and culture of law enforcement, with attempts to offer legal protections to those who are suspects or in custody.
There are various criticisms of the Miranda rights, particularly in the context that they have becoming nothing more than a ritual which has little influence on guaranteeing the rights of the accused suspects. In a 2012 study by Domanico et al. which investigated recorded police interrogations for serious felony cases, 93% of suspects waived their rights and talked with the police. However, the used version of the Miranda warning required a level of reading comprehension and proficiency that most of the suspects did not possess. Nor did the police seek to ensure that the suspects understood their rights prior to waiving them, speaking significantly faster when reading the rights and minimized their importance (Domanico et al. 2).
These findings in social science studies and criticism from rights advocates indicate the inherent flaw in the Miranda warning. While the Supreme Court decision was aimed at protecting against police coercion, it ultimately relied on a false premise that suspects would understand the Miranda rights and utilize them effectively in the effort to decrease any method of coercion in custodial interrogation. However, there are notable exceptions and workarounds to the Mirandas such as questioning the suspects prior to arrest or presenting warnings at a level that would be difficult to comprehend, in fact officers are commonly trained to circumvent the requirements (Chemerinsky). Officers have developed social-influence strategies to secure waivers in a manner that fits the voluntarily requirement. This includes perception of scarcity that this is a one-time offer for the suspect to tell their narrative or characterizing the Miranda process as mere formality (Smalarz 457). Therefore, there is inherent criticism that the Miranda decision and subsequent policy failed and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is inadequately protected.
“Breakdown of Miranda Rights” Bixon Law, 2018. Web.
Chemerinsky, Erwin. “Why Have Miranda Rights Failed?” Democracy, 2016. Web.
Domanico, Anthony. J. et al. “Overcoming Miranda: A Content Analysis of the Miranda Portion of Police Interrogations.” Idaho Law Review, vol. 49, 2012, pp. 1-22. Web.
Kelley, Sharon, et al. “Review of Research and Recent Case Law on Understanding and Appreciation of Miranda Warnings.” Advances in Psychology and Law. Advances in Psychology and Law, vol 3, edited by Monica K. Miller and Brian H. Bornstein, Springer, 2018, pp. 77-117.
Leo, Richard. A. “The Impact of Miranda Revisited.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86, no. 3, 1996, pp. 458-471. Web.
Schreiber, Jeremy M. Miranda Rights Abilities of Defendants Found Incompetent to Stand Trial. Dissertation, Farleigh Dickinson University, 2019. Web.
Smalarz, Laura, et al. “Miranda at 50.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 25, no. 6, 2016, pp. 455–460. Web.