Transnational Research Associates

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 86 S.CT.1602, 16L.ED. 2D 694 (1966)

Art Madsen, M.Ed.


Miranda v. Arizona, an exceptionally prominent landmark case, involved a number of socially compelling and juridically controversial components related to ‘the rights of the accused’. Additionally, it encompassed several major Constitutional issues which contributed to its widespread renown in jurisprudential and law enforcement circles. Now, more than 30 years later, there is scarcely a law enforcement officer who is unaware of the implications of the Miranda decision.

Assuredly, there is a clear distinction to be made between fundamental rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment and the more recent impact of the Miranda United States Supreme Court decision, cited above. This distinction resides in the necessity, at time of arrest, to inform the suspect of his or her Constitutional protections, notably those concerning the rights of silence and non-self-incrimination. This paper will present the history, the facts, the issues as well as the socio-juridical ramifications of this key decision handed down by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, in 1966, who issued the formal opinion of the Court (Irons, 1993).

Ernesto Miranda, who had a lengthy criminal history of sexual misconduct, was arrested in 1963 by the Phoenix Police Department for allegedly sexually assaulting an Arizona woman. After a superficial 90-minute interrogation session in a "back-room" police station atmosphere, he confessed, and, upon payment of $100 to a hastily located lawyer, was tried. Miranda was found guilty, by virtue of both evidence and his confession, by a jury and was summarily imprisoned. However, he was not a typical prisoner and felt that his rights had been violated. A series of appeals ensued and, ultimately, the Arizona State Supreme Court upheld the initial decision. In fact, the procedural history of these actions is fairly complex, but involved a series of court cases from the Superior level in Arizona up through the Arizona State Supreme Court. After these in-state appellate hearings, Miranda, acting from his prison cell, appealed to the United States Supreme Court. His submittal was selected on the basis of judicial merit and was chosen, from among thousands of cases, to be reviewed by the nation’s highest judicial body (Irons, 1993). At the time, there was also a parallel action underway in Illinois, a year after Miranda’s hasty trial, which seemed to raise a similar issue of Fifth Amendment protections. It was known as Escobedo v. Illinois (378 US 478); however, in this instance, the case turned on a question of complete denial of attorney and, hence, a clear-cut violation of the defendant’s right to remain silent under high-pressure interrogation tactics. This entailed violation of Escobedo’s Sixth Amendment Rights. Miranda, on the contrary, had eventually been granted an attorney, but not at the time of interrogation. His case differed substantially in tenor and implications (Framingham, 1999).

At the initial U.S. Supreme Court pleading, under Chief Justice Warren, Miranda’s ACLU lawyer presented evidence to suggest that Miranda’s confession had, however, actually been obtained in the absence of counsel (thus denying him his Sixth Amendment Rights) and, hence, was inadmissible on those grounds alone. Pursuing his line of reasoning and extending his thinking, the ACLU lawyer argued brilliantly that Miranda had, in fact, sacrificed two rights (the presence of a lawyer and his right to silence) of which he had never been aware.

Also injected into these ACLU arguments, presented before the U.S. Supreme Court, were other well known cases involving police coercion, such as Chambers v. Florida (309 US 227) and Blackburn v. Alabama (361 US 199, 206 1960). Justice Warren, in handing down the Supreme Court’s final decision, 5 to 4 in favor of Miranda, affirmed most strenuously that, because of a history of police brutality in the United States, all defendants "must be warned" of their Constitutional entitlement to non-self-incrimination and to counsel. Following this landmark decision, Miranda was granted a new trial, found guilty a second time without his confession having been admitted as evidence -- on the basis of considerable physical evidence that he had committed the rape, and was re-imprisoned for several years, released on parole, and ultimately stabbed to death in Phoenix during a brawl.

Glancing more specifically at relevant questions of law and ensuing in-court arguments, it can be readily seen that self-incrimination is not, and never was, legally admissible under the Fifth Amendment and that Miranda v. Arizona further broadened and extended this protection to all defendants. Thus, the Bill of Rights, notably Articles 5 and 6 thereof, is intertwined, two centuries later, with the Miranda case, to the considerable advantage of the accused. For its part, the State of Arizona argued that the police had acted in accordance with accepted standards, by handing Miranda a pre-worded written confession form stating his rights, but Miranda’s lawyer argued that he had not been fully forewarned of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment Constitutional protections, notwithstanding the printed confession form.

Further, there was an attempt on the part of Gary Nelson, Arizona Assistant Attorney General, to block the presence of a lawyer during the interrogation phase. He argued that police information-gathering procedures would be handicapped by the presence of a defense attorney and that ‘the truth’ would never emerge under such conditions. These arguments were found lacking in validity by the Warren Court, although four members of the Court obviously argued strenuously in favor of Arizona’s contentions.

Interestingly, Miranda apparently never asked for a lawyer at the time of his confession, yet the Miranda decision resulted, in practical legal terms, in inadmissibility of evidence obtained only if the police actually deny the defendant the opportunity to contact an attorney (Dorsen, 1970 ,421). This denial must also be proven in court. In this sense, there seems to be a weakening of the Warren decision’s original intent and force.

The Warren Court, it should be recalled, was known, rightly or wrongly, for ‘preferring’ criminal rights to those of law enforcement; however, the balance later swung back toward law enforcement under Nixon Supreme Court appointees.

In the 1960s, the social atmosphere prevailing at the time was flavored by the Kennedy-Humphrey brand of liberalism. Indeed, free-speech movements, student protests and rethinking of human rights issues were the order of the day. Although Arizona and the American Southwest were fairly conservative areas of the country, influenced heavily by the thinking of Senator Barry Goldwater, trends in Washington, D.C. at the Supreme Court level and elsewhere in the socio-political apparatus, reflected the much more expansive vision of the liberal agenda. Crimes against women, and especially sexual assault, were firmly frowned upon, of course; however, the intrinsic rights of both the victim and the accused were treated with far more egalitarian compassion, juridically, than may be the case today. This was obviously not true in Arizona; but was definitely the prevailing position on the national socio-political scene in the early and mid-1960s.

There was less of a trend in police interrogation practices toward physical intimidation during these years, but there was a growing tendency, nonetheless, to utilize the latest in psychological coerciveness. It was this component of ‘subtle psychological force’ that disturbed Chief Justice Warren when he wrote the majority opinion.

Significantly, the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision in favor of Miranda triggered many new events in the world of jurisprudence. New interrogation procedures were initiated nationwide, shielding the Fifth Amendment right of all defendants to remain silent and refrain from self-incrimination. The presence of lawyers at interrogation was reinforced as well, thus bolstering pre-existing Sixth Amendment enforcement.

However, the net effect of the Court’s finding resulted in those arrested in post-Miranda decision years having generally been verbally informed of their rights to decline self-incriminatory statements.

It is astonishing that, in the lengthy history of U.S. jurisprudence, the Miranda case surfaced as late as 1963 and that, even today, violations of this landmark Supreme Court ruling are still occurring in large urban settings where police departments are frequently found to be in contravention, formally speaking , of its provisions. One of the first such cases occurred in the early 1970s in San Diego and although it involved issues of racial discrimination and irregularities in arrest procedure, it also touched upon the fundamental Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights reinforced by the Miranda ruling (Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 US 388 1971). Incidentally, the protection of suspects’ rights in the 1970s, when the Bivens case occurred, has been documented in such chapters as "The Rights of Suspects" in Dorsen’s The Rights of Americans (1970, 424).

What transpires in the police interrogation process is seldom publicly known and, although the late FormerChief Justice Earl Warren wrote eloquently about the history of police torture, brutality and force in the United States, the officially recorded Miranda proceedings before the Supreme Court, at that time, did not concentrate on then current police practices in sufficient detail. Much was asserted in the court record, of course, and the final decision was clearly enough rendered in order to alter judicial and police procedures for decades to come (Maddex, 1978).

The overall impact of the Miranda v. Arizona decision on police and judicial systems in the United States is, on balance, quite favorable. Although victims of crime need to know that their attackers or assailants will be prosecuted, we are essentially a Nation of Law and fundamental rights of citizens must be safeguarded. The rights of the accused were clearly upgraded and defended by this famous U.S. Supreme Court decision, which overruled a standing State Court decision, and provided further proof, in the twentieth century, of the reliability of the American judicial apparatus as foreseen by the Founding Fathers.


Cortner, R. Supreme Court and Civil Liberties Policy, Mayfield Publishing Co., Palo Alto, 1975.

Dorsen, N. The Rights of Americans, Pantheon Books, New York, N.Y. , 1970.

Fagan, G. The Law, the Supreme Court and the People’s Rights, Barron’s Publishing,Woodbury, N.Y., 1977.

.................., Historic Documents, Appeals Statement, Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Arizona.,, 1999.

Irons, P. and Guitton, S. May It Please the Court, The New Press / Norton, New York, N.Y., 1993.

Maddex, J. Constitutional Law: Cases and Comments, Second Edition, West Publishing Company, St. Paul, 1978.