Term Paper: Legal Issues in Miranda v. Arizona, 384

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¶ … Legal Issues in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

The issues and their importance

Justice Warren summarized the issues in the case in the opening paragraph of his opinon, saying that the opinion would decide questions about

"the admissibility of statements obtained from an individual who is subjected to custodial police interrogation and the necessity for procedures which assure that the individual is accorded his privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate himself." (Miranda, p. 439).

These issues are important because they will affect the way that police interrogate criminal suspects in custody and the way that courts enforce the criminal suspect's Fifth Amendment rights when the suspect is in police custody. The way in which these two questions are determined will affect the ability of state and federal governments to investigate and prosecute crimes and they will affect how the courts will protect individuals and their constitutional right against self-incrimination.

b.

Key legal precedent

The Court reconsidered, reaffirmed and extended the ruling that it made in Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964), where it ruled that the evidence at a criminal trial could not include a confession obtained from a suspect who was denied his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights while in police custody. The opinion in Escobedo created a rule that suspects could not be coerced while in police custody.

c.

Summary of Court's opinion

When the police have a criminal suspect in custody, they must follow procedures to assure that he is informed about his privilege against self-incrimination, which is created by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as his right to legal counsel, which is protected by the Sixth Amendment. If the police obtain a confession without following these procedures, it will be presumed that the confession was obtained through coercion and that it violates the Fifth Amendment's rule that a person cannot be compelled to incriminate himself or herself. In addition, if the criminal suspect asks for a lawyer, the police cannot continue their interrogation and, if they do continue, they cannot use any confession obtained afterwards.

Facts of the Case

Ernesto Miranda, the petitioner in the Supreme Court and the defendant in the trial court, was arrested at his home and taken to the police station in custody. (Miranda, p. 491). At the station, he was identified by the complaining witness. (p. 491). After the identification, police officers took him into an interrogation room. The police officers admitted at Miranda's trial that, during the interrogation, he was not advised of his right to have legal counsel present. (p. 491). After two hours of interrogation, Miranda signed a confession. (p. 492). The confession began with a statement that Miranda was making the confession with full knowledge of his constitutional rights. (p. 492).

At his trial, the prosecution sought to introduce the written confession as evidence of Miranda's guilt, along with testimony from a police officer about the oral confession that Miranda made before his written one. Miranda's attorney objected to this evidence, arguing that it had been obtained in violation of Miranda's constitutional rights. The objection was denied, and Miranda was convicted of kidnapping and rape. (p. 492). He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of imprisonment, each of 20 to 30 years. (p. 492). On appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, ruling that his constitutional rights were not violated by the police's interrogation procedure. (p. 492). Miranda then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Applicable Legal Rules

The majority pointed out that the right against self-incrimination is a fundamental right, long recognized in Anglo-American jurisprudence, even before the drafting and ratification of the United States Constitution. (p. 460). This right is grounded in the principle that, to preserve democracy, individuals must have the liberty to enjoy a "private enclave," even a psychological one, into which the government may not intrude. When this principle is applied, "the government seeking to punish an individual produce the evidence against him by its own independent labors, rather than by the cruel, simple expedient of compelling it from his own mouth." (p. 460). This principle is at the foundation of the right against self-incrimination. This principle prohibiting any compulsion to confess protects individuals even when they are in police custody. Citing Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 542 (1897), the Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment right against coerced confessions protects individuals whenever they are compelled by government to make a confession against their will, regardless of whether they are in police custody or on the witness stand in a criminal trial. (p. 460).

A confession is presumed to be compelled when the police do not take steps to provide safeguards for the individual's right against self-incrimination. The majority explained that this was the fundamental rule informing the decision in Escobedo. (pp. 465-66). There, the police created a coercive atmosphere by refusing the suspect's requests during his interrogation for the assistance of counsel. (pp. 465-66). By preventing the suspect from having the assistance of a lawyer, the police inhibited him from understanding his rights and, therefore, from making a truly voluntary confession. (p. 466). The majority concluded that this essential rule set forth in Escobedo required that police must establish procedures to assure that every suspect in custodial interrogation should understand his or her right to counsel and right against self-incrimination. (466).

In dissent, Justice Clark disagreed with the Court's conclusion that the privilege applied to custodial interrogations. He found no support for the idea that the Constitution was intended to stretch so far. He rejected the idea that the framers intended to regulate police interrogations when they enacted the Fifth Amendment or that previous decisions by the Court had ever recognized such an expansive scope for the privilege. (p. 502). Justice Harlan's dissent went even further, asserting that the Court's precedent actually recognized that there was a substantial social interest in having the police conduct effective interrogations as part of their investigation of crimes. (pp. 508-09). Harlan thought that the Fifth Amendment should not be read to protect individuals against all pressure to confess their crimes. (p. 512). As long as the police exert pressure within the confines of the principles governing due process of law, there is no violation of individual constitutional rights. (p. 512).

Application of Rules to Facts

The majority was concerned about controlling police practices by which confessions were coerced from criminal suspects. It noted that, in contemporary circumstances, confessions were coerced through primarily psychological means rather than physical ones. (pp. 448-49). The psychological tools that police employ include: isolating the suspect and placing him in unfamiliar surroundings; treating the suspect as though his guilt were already established and that the police only need him to confirm a few minor facts about the circumstances of his crime; and to emphasize to the suspect that the crime of which he is "guilty" is not really morally serious and can be blamed on others or on society. (pp. 449-50). "These tactics are designed to put the subject in a psychological state where his story is but an elaboration of what the police purport to know already -- that he is guilty. Explanations to the contrary are dismissed and discouraged." (p. 450). This approach to interrogation "exacts a heavy toll on individual liberty and trades on the weakness of individuals." (p. 455).

The Court concluded that Miranda was coerced in this way when he was in police custody.

"From the testimony of the officers and by the admission of respondent, it is clear that Miranda was not in any way apprised of his right to consult with an attorney and to have one present during the interrogation, nor was his right not to be compelled to incriminate himself effectively protected in any other manner." (p. 492).

Thus, the Court concluded that Miranda had been subject to the kind of coercion that is inherent in any custodial interrogation and that this coercion made his confession inadmissible at his trial. (p. 492).

Court's Conclusion

The Court concluded that "if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent." (pp. 467-68). It ruled that these warnings "an absolute prerequisite in overcoming the inherent pressures of the interrogation atmosphere." (p. 468). The warnings were necessary because they "will show the individual that his interrogators are prepared to recognize his privilege should he choose to exercise it." (p. 468)

The Court also ruled that a warning about the right to counsel is also essential to the right against self-incrimination. (p. 471). Individuals cannot always understand how to protect themselves against self-incrimination in the custodial context unless they are assisted by a lawyer during interrogation. (p. 471). As the Court put it, "an individual held for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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