Miranda rights are a constitutional guarantee that any person who is arrested and questioned as a suspect in a crime be informed that he or she has the right to remain silent. Miranda rights also ensure that the suspect is told that whatever he or she says can be used in court as evidence and that the suspect has the right to speak to an attorney. Further, if the suspect cannot afford to hire an attorney, the court will assign one to the case at no charge. Miranda rights must be read to a person in police custody prior to an interrogation in a statement known as the Miranda Warning.
Miranda rights were defined by the US Supreme Court in 1966. The case, known as Miranda vs. Arizona, involved 22-year old Ernesto Miranda, who was arrested in March 1963 for allegedly abducting and raping an 18-year-old woman. After the woman identified him, Miranda was questioned for two hours and ultimately signed a confession admitting to the crime. The written confession had a paragraph typed on each page indicating that the suspect was fully aware of his legal rights and understood that whatever he said could be used against him.
Miranda was brought to trial in June 1963 and represented by Alvin Moore, a court-appointed attorney. Moore objected to the confession being used as evidence, claiming that Miranda had never been verbally informed of his rights. Judge Yale McFate overruled this request, and the jury found Miranda guilty. He was sentenced to two concurrent 20 to 30 year terms. Moore immediately filed an appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court, but the appeal was denied in 1965.
At the time Miranda’s appeal was being considered by the Arizona court, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was seeking a case to present to the US Supreme Court involving a suspect’s right to representation. The ACLU approached Moore about handling the case, but he was in poor health and unable to become involved. John Flynn and John Frank agreed to take the case pro bono, and in June 1965 they wrote a petition in which they argued that Miranda’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.
In February 1966, the case was heard by the US Supreme Court. Flynn argued that not only had Miranda’s right to counsel been violated, but that his Fifth Amendment rights had also been ignored. The State of Arizona contended that this was not a Fifth Amendment issue, but rather an effort to clarify the Arizona Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding a suspect’s right to counsel. Three months later, on 13 June 1966, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote a decision reflecting the Court’s opinion that Miranda’s Fifth Amendment rights had been violated. This decision set forth the stipulation that any person being held in custody be clearly informed of his or her Miranda rights.
Miranda was retried for the crime, but although his confession was not allowed as evidence in light of the newly defined Miranda rights, he was convicted based on other evidence and served 11 years. He was paroled in 1972, but continued to run afoul of the law. In 1976, Ernesto Miranda was killed in a bar fight.
In 2000, the US Supreme Court revisited the issue of Miranda rights. While the earlier decision was upheld, Chief Justice Warren Rehnquist stated that police do not have to read the Miranda rights unless they intend to question the suspect about the crime for which he or she is being arrested.