Fifty years ago this month, the US Supreme Court finished hearing Miranda v. Arizona, a case that would prove pivotal in American jurisprudence.
On March 13, 1963, Ernesto Arturo Miranda was detained by the Phoenix Police Department in connection with the kidnapping and rape of 18-year-old woman 10 days earlier. The police had identified Miranda as a suspect through circumstantial evidence.
After two hours of interrogation by police officers, Miranda confessed to the rape and signed his name to the charge on forms that included the typed statement: “I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”
However, as was procedure at the time, Miranda was never informed of his right to counsel, nor was he advised of his right to remain silent or that his statements during the interrogation would be used against him.
Miranda wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, according to a story on the Miranda Case in the August/September 2006 issue of American Heritage.
Born in 1940, he dropped out of school after the eighth grade and was arrested for his first felony, burglary, in 1954. Sentenced to probation, he was back in court less than a year later on another burglary charge and was sent to the Arizona State Industrial School for Boys. Just a few weeks after his release he committed his first sexual offense, attempted rape and assault.
After two more years at the Industrial School, Miranda, now 17, moved to Los Angeles, where he was arrested for lack of supervision, curfew violations, peeping Tom activities, and, eventually, armed robbery. He served 45 days in the county detention home before being sent back to Arizona.
He tried joining the army, but fared poorly, spending more than one-third of his 18 months in the service at hard labor for going AWOL and being caught in another peeping Tom act. He was dishonorably discharged, American Heritage noted.
After leaving the service, Miranda moved to Texas, where he was arrested for stealing cars and sent to federal prison for a year. Afterward, he moved back to California and met a woman. The following year the pair, with her two children and an infant born to the couple, moved to Arizona.
Miranda was working as a dockworker at a produce facility when he arrested in March 1963 in connection with the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old movie house employee.
When Miranda’s case went to trial his court-appointed attorney Alvin Moore objected, arguing that Miranda’s confession was not truly voluntary and that he had not been afforded all the safeguards to his rights provided by the Constitution and should therefore be excluded.
The objection was overruled, and based on the confession and other evidence, Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment on each charge, with sentences to run concurrently.
Moore appealed the sentence to the Arizona Supreme Court, claiming that Miranda’s confession was not fully voluntary and should not have been admitted into court proceedings. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. In upholding the lower court’s verdict, the Arizona Supreme Court emphasized heavily that Miranda did not specifically request an attorney.
The decision was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which heard the case Feb. 28-March 1, 1966.
In June 1966, by a 5-4 decision led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court held that statements made by defendants during a police interrogation are admissible at trial only if it can be shown that the defendant was informed of their right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning, of their right against self-incrimination, and that the defendant not only understood these rights, but voluntarily waived them.
This had a significant impact on law enforcement in the United States, by making what became known as the Miranda rights part of routine police procedure to ensure that suspects were informed of their rights. The Miranda warning, known as “Mirandizing” a suspect, is the formal warning required to be given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial situation) before they are interrogated.
Miranda was retried after the original case against him was thrown out, and this time the prosecution, instead of using the confession, called witnesses, including the woman with whom Miranda was living at the time of the offense, who testified that he had told her of committing the crime, and introduced other evidence.
Miranda was convicted in 1967 and sentenced to serve 20 to 30 years. He was paroled in 1975.
After his release, Miranda returned to his old neighborhood and made a modest living autographing police officers’ “Miranda cards” which contained the text of the warning, to enable them to read to those arrested.
In January 1976, Miranda was drinking and playing cards with two Mexican nationals. After a time, the three came to blows over a handful of change that sat atop the bar. One of the Mexicans drew a six-inch knife and Miranda was stabbed. He died on the way to the hospital.
A suspect was arrested, but he exercised his right to remain silent. With no evidence against him, he was released.
(Top: Mug shot of Ernesto Miranda following his arrest for kidnapping and rape in 1963.)